City of Manila

The Arches of Manila Chinatown

The last Araw ng Maynila was an occasion to formally inaugurate the new Manila Chinatown arch located in Plaza Moraga at the foot of Jones Bridge in Binondo, Manila. It is said to be the world’s largest Chinatown arch at 63.8 feet high and 74 feet wide (1.62 meters high and 1.88 meters wide if you prefer the metric system) and was installed as part of an effort for tourism and the revitalization of Chinatown and the city in general, which has been the cornerstone of the administration of former president turned city mayor Joseph Estrada.

Nevertheless, not everyone is thrilled to have it, even the Filipino-Chinese community in the city, mainly because of the inscription in the arch. The Chinese characters on the arch are rendered in Pinyin as “zhong guo zheng“, meaning literally “China Town.” Take note, China Town and not Chinatown, so this part of Manila is being implied in this inscription as an outpost of China. And we all know how cordial the relations are right now between the Philippines and China.

In an interview, Filipino-Chinese community leader Teresita Ang-See further explained that overseas Chinese communities would’ve preferred the term “hua ren qu” or Chinese people district to describe themselves as the experiences of each overseas Chinese community is different and unique. Manila’s Chinatown is itself unique as being a product of intermingling between Chinese, Filipino, Spanish cultures as well as other cultures that have interacted over the last 400 years.

As such, the Tsinoys of Manila would not rather associate themselves with the new arch and are perfectly content with the older arches in Chinatown that are standing, which they feel represent their community better than the new one. Thus, this entry is a good opportunity to get to know these arches that have beloved landmarks in this part of the city.

These arches were built in the 1970s to celebrate the formalization of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China on June 9, 1975. On a sidenote, this is why every June 9 is celebrated as the “Philippine-Chinese Friendship Day.” There are four in total, all of them built through funds raised by the Tsinoy community, as opposed to the newer one which was largely a city hall initiative, with little or no input from the Tsinoys. Interesting.

One of the arches is “Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch” located just a few meters behind the aforementioned new “China Town” arch, along Quintin Paredes Street near the intersection of San Vicente Street.  Built to celebrate the then newly-formalized friendship of the Philippines and China, is probably the more prominent of the arches, owing partly to its location as it served as a gateway to Chinatown if you’re coming from the south. At least until the new one was built.

Along Ongpin Street, one can see two arches erected over the street’s two bridges, the Ongpin South Bridge (AKA the Manila-Beijing Friendship Bridge) arch along the street crossing Estero de la Reina and the Ongpin North Bridge (AKA the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Bridge) arch which crosses Estero de San Lazaro. Both these arches don’t have any message or value to impart in their inscriptions other than to “Develop Metro Manila” and “Support New Society,” the last being one of the few long-lasting reminders of the era during which they were built.

The Ongpin South Bridge arch with the “Develop Metro Manila” inscription (why there is a “Welcome” sign when you’re already in Chinatown baffles me)
The Ongpin North Bridge arch with the “Support New Society” inscription

Lastly, the fourth arch is located right at the end of Ongpin Street as it approaches Plaza Santa Cruz, serving as another gateway to Chinatown especially if coming from downtown Santa Cruz. This is the “Arch of Goodwill” symbolizing the (hopes of, at least) expression of goodwill between the Filipinos and Chinese community in the city, and perhaps to some extent, between the Philippines and China themselves. Given the state of things right now between the two countries, friendship and goodwill is pretty much needed to resolve these thorny matters.

Acknowledgements as well to Coconuts Manila

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