Bahay Tsinoy
City of Manila

Bahay Tsinoy: Preserving Filipino-Chinese Heritage

As the seat of power of Spanish Philippines, the Walled City that is Intramuros was pretty much an exclusive enclave where the Spanish colonial masters, government officials and clergy alike, made their residence. At least until around the 1800s when population growth and an earthquake forced some of them at least to venture outside the walls. But throughout the Spanish colonial period, the Spanish officials made sure to keep one particular group from entering Intramuros: the Chinese immigrants or the Sangleys as the Spaniards here called them.

Model of a typical warehouse/customs house called “Alcaiceria” where the Chinese would ply their trade

The closest the Chinese got to the Walled City was them (mostly those not baptized into Christianity; the baptized ones were relegated to places like Binondo) being concentrated in the area around what is now the Metropolitan Theater, Arroceros Park, and Mehan Garden called the Parian*, a short distance and a cannon’s shot away from the walled fortifications. Unfortunately, they were subjected to harsh measures by the authorities, not least of which being massacred in 1605 in the wake of a failed rebellion by elements within the Chinese community.

Diorama of the Chinese rebellion in the 1600s in which the Spanish forces were quelling the unrest at the Parian, just outside the Intramuros walls

Almost 400 years later, much had changed since. Not least of which is the change of perception of the Chinese immigrants in the country who have managed to be integrated into the fabric of Filipino identity and culture, becoming known now as Chinese Filipinos or Tsinoy. Most especially, many of these Chinese Filipinos have managed to make a big impact in the country’s economy with the likes of Henry Sy Sr., John Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, Tony Tan-Caktiong and many others whose businesses dominate the country’s business landscape.

In the midst of this changed landscape, the Chinese Filipinos managed to accomplish what those came before them were not able to do, finally having a presence in the Walled City itself. On January 19, 1999, the Kaisa Heritage Center (eventually renamed the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center) was officially inaugurated as a center specializing in the history and culture of the Chinese Filipinos, showcased through its centerpiece museum, the Bahay Tsinoy.

The lobby of the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center; note the model Xi’an terracotta warrior in the middle

The idea behind Bahay Tsinoy and the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center sprang from the vision of Professor Chinben See, a Chinese anthropologist who studied about the overseas Chinese, especially in the Philippines, along with his wife Teresita Ang-See, yup…the same Teresita Ang-See who founded the influential Filipino-Chinese driven organization Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran and also coined the term “Tsinoy”. In particular, Professor See dreamt of a lasting repository for Chinese Filipino culture and history which at that time was sorely lacking, if not virtually non-existent. This dream was fortunately realized thanks to the support of the Filipino-Chinese community, particularly by Angelo King, (which explains his name in the center) a self-made businessman who made his name through his hotel business which includes Anito Inn and Victoria Court.

Books on the Chinese Filipinos and other related works found at the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center
Bust of Gen. Jose Ignacio Paua, a Chinese immigrant who became a general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army under General, then President Emilio Aguinaldo

As per the regulations of the Intramuros Administration, the museum was The museum was designed by Eva Penamora with architect Honrado Fernandez following a typical classical style that many civic buildings of the Spanish colonial period looked like. Despite the compact size and being at two storeys tall, not to mention a relative newcomer in the historic district, the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center has become an important landmark in Intramuros. The Bahay Tsinoy museum is the venue to go to where one can learn about the history and legacy of the Chinese community in the country. Apart from the museum, the center also has a library, auditorium, and other function halls where events related to the Filipino-Chinese community are held. It also serves as the head office of the Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran Foundation, which runs the center.

As for the museum itself, Bahay Tsinoy manages to compress within two floors the major aspects of Chinese-Filipino life throughout history, from the early contacts made during the pre-colonial period to the triumphs and struggles the Filipino-Chinese community has experienced over the years. Some exhibits also emphasize the community’s Chinese roots, particularly showcased by a model of one of the terracotta warriors that were found outside Xi’an, China.

Hall dedicated to the Chinese Filipinos who fought in World War II during the Japanese occupation

Of course, one cannot help make comparisons to another museum related to the Filipino-Chinese community, the recently-opened Chinatown Museum early this year. Though there is actually no competition as the Chinatown Museum is focused more on the history of a place, in this case the Manila Chinatown of Binondo, San Nicolas, and up to Santa Cruz while Bahay Tsinoy is focused more on the Filipino-Chinese and the country in general.

Large-scale model of a Chinese junkboat which is similar to the ones that would sail to the country during the precolonial period

The Bahay Tsinoy at the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center may not be part of the Intramuros of old. Nevertheless, it has made an impact not only as a landmark that has helped better shape the Intramuros of today but as a testament to how an oppressed community managed to rise above such adversities and become not only a respected part of our culture and history but actively helped shape the city and the country as we know it today.

*Note: The word “Parian” derived from the Tagalog-Malay word “pariyan” or “padiyan” which denotes a destination. In the early times, the term was also used to denote an open area where there was selling of trade and goods, which the Chinese migrants were (and are still) engaged in and also stay in. Thus, in a short while, the term came to denote a Chinese enclave

Acknowledgements as well to Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran, Bahay Tsinoy museum, Philippine Star, and Wikipedia

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