Contemporary Philippine – China relationship is a debatable topic in many parts of the world due to territorial disputes. Just recently, a national issue sparked when Filipino government officials seemingly abandon their responsibility in the research and development of Benham Rise. However, these conflicts with China are not new in Philippine history.
The Philippines and China, though, were not always in conflict with each other, In fact, there were occasions when the two experienced harmonious relationship especially in terms of trade.
As early as the 10th century, Filipinos from Mayi (present-day Mindoro) reached Canton during the Northern Song Dynasty to try to establish a solid trade partnership. Because of the ability of early Filipinos from Mindoro to provide noteworthy products, they received the attention of Chinese local officials from the Bureau of Maritime Trade. It started a centuries-long friendship between China and certain Philippine trade centers.
Furthermore, in the 11th century, more Filipinos from powerful trade entrepôts were reaching China to establish trade relations . This included Puduan (present-day Butuan), as well as Sanmalan (present-day Zamboanga).
By the 12th century, more trading centers from the Philippines were trying to trade with China due to the fact that any place China recognized as a trading partner easily earned a prestige over other trading ports.
In this era, Philippine trade centers like Baipuer (present-day Babuyan Islands), and Sandao (a collective term for areas in Palawan and Manila) were included in the list of Chinese recognized trading partners.
This was a great achievement for a young polity like the early Philippines as many regions in Southeast Asia were trying everything just to be recognized by China. With the Philippines, it became an advantage over other Southeast Asian territories.
Trading with China was equivalent to absolute wealth and power in the region. Thus, polities would do everything just to gain this advantage.
However, because of China’s power, there were instances when they would take advantage of their Filipino trading partners. That, of course, led to conflicts where the Filipinos had to fight back.
Here, we list instances wherein China and Philippines had conflict in terms of trade.
1. Chinese traders did not pay enough
Chinese traders regarded pearls from Sulu as the “best among all the pearls produced in Southeast Asia.” However, Chinese traders, when they purchase it, would not pay enough. As a matter of fact, when they got back to China, they would earn 10 to 30 times more than the original amount.
Because of this system, traders from Sulu had to think of ways to balance off the trade. Of course, they did not want to lose the interest of China. However, they must also protect their resources. To do so, no matter how far China was, they initiated expeditions to reach China and to assert their role in trade.
2. Chinese loved Mayi as a trading partner, but…
China would negotiate with Mayi to be able to access other nearby trading centers like Sandao and Pulilu (present-day Manila). Because of this arrangement, there was mutual trust among the two powerful trading centers. Meaning, both parties would allow each other to freely trade with the locals.
However, China felt that it was not appropriate for a superpower like them not to control trading centers. Mayi held the monopoly of trade, and China wanted to change this. To do, China stopped negotiating with Mayi and just entered Sandao and Pulilu without the approval of the local ruler. This prompted the ruler of Mayi to break the mutual trust that was established.
3. Hostage taking became a trade practice.
Since mutual trust was already lost, local rulers found it necessary to keep at least one Chinese merchant ashore as hostage until trading ended to ensure that there would be smooth transactions all throughout.
There were even occasions in Sulu when the hostage was held captive to ensure that Chinese traders would come back after the next trading season.
4. China needed the Philippines the same way the Philippines needed China
Again, trading with China was tantamount to wealth and power. However, China was really careful not to lose the Philippines because they knew how important Philippines was in terms of trade.
There was an event in the 14th century when Sulu invaded Boni (present-day Brunei) to keep monopoly with Chinese trade, Rulers from Boni sought the help of the Chinese emperor to keep Sulu away. Though China backed Boni on this one, it was careful not to destroy its relationship with the rulers of Sulu.
The Philippines may have been losing its grip on our sovereignty issues against China because of the incompetence of some of our government officials. However, may this interesting piece of history give people strength in knowing that our ancestors fought for our rights.
We were a small polity back then. We did not even have an established country like that of China. But, no matter how little they are compared to the Chinese empire, our ancestors did not lose the will to protect themselves.
Thus, we should also do the same to protect our sovereign rights. May the memories of our ancestors become our source of inspiration today.
Zhenping, W. (2003). Reading Song-Ming Records on the Pre-colonial History of the Philippines. International Convention for Asia Scholars: Singapore.