The rise of Chinese mestizo


The rise of Filipino Chinese in expanding the economy of the Philippines

DNA analysis shows that Filipino ancestry is deeply rooted in Chinese ethnicity. Although the Spaniards heavily influenced many Filipino traditions, language, and habits, Filipinos of Spanish (Castillian) descent comprise only 2 to 3% of the average genes.

Mestizo de Sangley

Sangley is a term for Filipinos of pure Chinese ancestry. The most common sangleys are the “mestizo de sangley.” They are children or immediate descendants of a Chinese immigrant who married a native Filipino.

For example, Jose Rizal can be considered a Mestizo de Sangley. His Chinese ancestry comes from both parents. Her mother’s ancestry is traced back to Cua Yi Lam, a native of Jinjiang, China, who migrated to the Philippines in 1697.

Rizal also had other racial mixes that classified him as indio. However, their wealthy background allowed his parents to maintain their Don and Dona titles and gain respect and leverage within the community.

Chinese mestizo and Indio

Anyone with a ‘Chinese father; but with an indio mother is a Chinese mestizo. However, a male indio who marries a ‘Chinese mestiza’ (female) adopts the indio class of her husband.

Sangely today

If the country were still under Spain, the Sangleys would be the likes of Henry Sy Sr. or Lucio Tan. Their children who married a Filipina would be “mestizo de Sangely” or Chinoy.

There are approximately 1.35 million pure Chinese and about 22.8 million Chinese descendants out of 98.87 million in 2013.

The threat of a growing Chinese population

The growing Chinese population threatened Spain at the beginning of the Spanish period. Being an ethnic group (with roots in China) means they would be far less loyal to the Spanish crown.

In the wake of the Chinese massacre in Manila in 1603, ethnic Chinese fled to Pampanga in the north and some to Laguna, where Chinese immigrants were already present.

Intermarriage between lowland natives in northern Luzon was prevalent in the south. For example, the short-lived kingdom of Limahong in Lingayen further expanded the sangley population in the south.

The low-class Chinese mestizos

By the 1700s, the ruling class was dominated by the Peninsulares (Spaniards living in the “new world” born in Spain) and Insulares (those born in the Philippines). They were elitists who looked down on indios (native Filipinos).

Within the racial mix were Chinese immigrants who were primarily laborers, but by the 1800s, the Filipino-Chinese middle class began to emerge. They were primarily traders instrumental in building the bustling economy of Manila.

Still, newer immigrants from mainland China continue to trickle to escape famine and political unrest. A lot of them were uneducated and uncultured.

Derogatory remarks such as “Instik beho” (foul-smelling Chinese viejo) and “Instik baboy” (Dirty Chinese) were common slurs. [Chinese Ethic slurs]

The turning of the tides

In the mid-1900s, the tides turned, and by the late 1900s, a new generation of very wealthy Filpino-Chinese began to look down on Filipinos, referring to them as “Huan-a” (Hokkien for non-Chinese) or “Kang lang” (Filipino worker), considered vulgar phrases within their community.

The Binondo Chinese community for Christianized sangleys

The Dominicans and Jesuits were encouraged to Christianize the sangleys. In 1594, Spanish Governor Luis Pérez Dasmariñas established Binondo. It was a small town located near the walled city of Intramuros.

Binondo was the permanent settlement of sangleys who converted to Catholicism. By 1687, a Chinese Guild (Gremio de Chino) was established. In 1954, the Binondo Chinese community was formally created.

The Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) were established in the early 1600s. In 1738, King Philip V of Spain opened these schools to Chinese and Tonkinese (North Vietnamese) students because China and Tonkin did not have Christian educational institutions.

Binondo, the permanent settlement of Christian sangleys.


The Escolta – The Broadway of Manila (1899; Wikimedia Commons). Established in 1594, Escolta is the country’s commercial center, populated by mostly Chinese immigrants from Fujian. It’s within the Binondo district where Chinese who converted to Catholicism settled in the late 1500s.

Chinese mestizo during the revolution

Captain John Taylor (1989) described in the ‘Philippines Insurrection Against the United States document how the Chinese helped overthrow Spain.

He said, “Natives who have led during the past few years of revolt have probably been almost all partly Chinese (mestizos)... They were chiefly instrumental with the loudest voices, arrogate to themselves the right of speaking for the people of the archipelago.[Michael Tai, 2019]

The New Manila

In the 1930s, wealthy Filipinos and politicians built mansions in the Magdalena estate in Quezon City. It was a hacienda developed into an elite residential area by the Filipino-Lebanese elite, Doña Magdalena Hemady.

It became the “New Manila,” where the children of the wealthy Chinese mestizos in Binondo also relocated. They established smaller businesses in the area in the 1970s.


Autorina a Filipino middle-class during the turn of the 19th century. Many of them had Chinese blood—a descendant of a Chinese mestizo.

The rise of the middle-class Filipino-Chinese

Despite obscurity among the wealthy insulares and Spanish mestizos, the Chinese remained industrious and supported one another. They were enterprising, pioneering, and frugal.

The Chinese mestizos rose to prominence between 1741 and 1898, primarily as a landholder and middleman wholesalers of local and imports. [Wickberg]

New opportunities for the enterprising sangleys

In the late 1760s, many Chinese were forced out of the country to cooperate with the British, who occupied Manila in 1762-1764. Those left in Manila were not allowed to move to the provinces.

The Chinese mestizos followed the lead of their “mainland Chinese” counterparts and penetrated less explored trading businesses. By the early 1800s, Chinese mestizos were engaged in landholding and wholesaling. [Antonio S. Tan]

Mestizos in Laguna, Cebu, and Ilo-Ilo

North of Manila, the Chinese mestizos of Tondo, Malabon, Polo, Obando, Meycauayan, and Bocaue were into rice trading between Manila and the Pampanga-Bulacan area.

In the east of Manila, Chinese mestizos in Pasig specialize in wholesale and retail trade between Manila and Laguna. The rest moved into lumber, steel, rubber, and textile.

By the early 18th century, the Parian of Cebu and Ilo-Ilo was a predominantly Chinese mestizo community—but their impact on the country’s industrialization was centered on Manila.

For example, Chinese mestizos in Molo and Jaro in Ilo-Ilo were exported to Manila and bought European goods to sell. They were also engaged in pina clothmaking for export. It was this thriving coastwise trade that made Cebu and Ilo-Ilo wealthier. [Tan, P148]

The demand for sugar encouraged the Chinese traders and landowners to convert lands into sugar farming. Hence, the rise of Filipino-Chinese hacinderos.


early farming
In the late 18th century, some hacinderos (farmland owners) replaced their coconut plantations with sugar farming, exported by Chinese traders. However, children of wealthy farm owners pursued higher education and sold their land. (PHOTO: Pasungkitan farmland of one of the Yan families in Pagsanjan)

Wealthy Filipino-Chinese traders

The opening of the port of Manila in the 1830s, followed by those in Iloilo and Cebu, stimulated coastline trade among the various islands in Manila. It was mainly the Chinese mestizos who handled wholesale trading between these islands.

The country’s opening to foreign traders facilitated the growth of the export of tropical products like sugar, coffee, coconut, tobacco, and hemp to neighboring countries.

In 1875, German ethnologist and explorer Andreas Fedor Jagor referred to the sangleys as the wealthiest and most enterprising portion of the population. [Jagor, p33]

Sangleys are the wealthiest.


A wave of Chinese immigrants in the 1900s

After the Xinhai Revolution that ended China’s monarchy, a new wave of Chinese immigrants from the mainland arrived to escape their country’s growing poverty and tumultuous political struggle.

With it came the more enterprising Chinese immigrants with money and new ideas—enticed by strong Chinese communities thriving in several parts of the country.

In the mid-19th century, there were 240,000 Chinese mestizos but only about 7,000 to 10,000 Spanish mestizos. [Archipel 32] (PHOTO: Armlet of Anti-Japanese Guerilla Branch of Overseas Chinese in the Philippines.)

The making of business tycoons

Several of the fresh Chinese immigrants would become the patriarch of the Philippines’ biggest conglomerates. Their children and grandchildren would later become the country’s business tycoons.

Several large trading companies were pioneered by the “Chinese mestizos.” Hardware stores, manufacturing, retail outlets, and real estate businesses are owned mainly by the modern-day Mestizo de Sangley—the Chinoys.

A new wave of Chinese immigrants

China became a financial giant thanks to Deng Xiao Ping’s economic reforms in the 1970s. But the grip of current CCP rules has led to a significant downturn in the Chinese economy, especially after the pandemic.

Since 2017, a new wave of Chinese immigrants has invaded the Philippines with illegal drugs and gambling. In 2022, a kidnapping wave, apparently of Chinoys by mainland Chinese foreigners, caught the attention of the Senate.


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