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Chinese Filipino

Chinese Filipino is an overseas Chinese in the Philippines. Chinese Filipinos make up one of the two most significant minority groups in the Philippines, the other being the Filipino Muslims .


General Information

The Chinese in the Philippines have always been one of the largest minority groups, making up about 2% (1.5 million) of the total country's population. In comparison to other countries in Southeast Asia, this percentage is relatively small. However, the rate of intermarriage between Filipinos and Chinese is among the highest in the region, exceeded only by Thailand in this aspect. Some studies have shown that as many as 20% or more of the Filipino population have some Chinese ancestry. Generally, the term Chinese mestizo is reserved for those who have more recent Chinese ancestry; those who still retain, in full or in part, the surnames of their Chinese ancestors; or those who have "Chinese eyes" or fairer complexion compared to the general populace which can be attributed to their Chinese ancestry. By this definition, the Chinese Filipinos, along with the Chinese mestizos, number about 3.5 million.


The Chinese in the Philippines are mostly business owners and their life centers mostly in the family business. These mostly small and medium enterprises play a significant role in the Philippine economy. A handful of these entrepreneurs run large companies and are respected as some of the most prominent business tycoons in the Philippines. Chinese Filipinos attribute their success in business to frugality and hardwork, and entrepreneurship is highly valued and encouraged among the young.

Most Chinese Filipinos are urban dwellers. An estimated 60% of the Chinese Filipinos live within Metro Manila, with the rest in the other larger cities of the Philippines. In contrast with the Chinese mestizos, few Chinese are plantation owners. This is partly due to the fact that until recently when the Chinese Filipinos became Filipino citizens, the law prohibited the Chinese from owning land.

As with other Southeast Asian nations, the Chinese community in the Philippines has become a backwater of traditional Chinese culture. Whereas in Mainland China many cultural traditions and customs have been supressed by the Cultural Revolution or simply regarded as old-fashioned and obsolete, these traditions have remained largely untouched in the Philippines. Many new cultural twists have evolved within the Chinese community in the Philippines, distinguishing it from other overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. These cultural variations are highly evident during festivals such as Lunar New Year, Chap Goh Mei, and Ching Ming Festival. The Chinese Filpinos have developed unique funerary and wedding customs as well.


As many as 90% of the Chinese in the Philippines trace their ancestry to the southern part of Fujian province. Min Nan, also locally known as Fukien or Lán-lâng-oē ("our people's language"), is therefore the lingua franca of the Chinese Filipino community. Most Chinese in Metro Manila will speak the Quanzhou variant of this language while those in the southern Philippines will speak the Xiamen variant, both of which have only slight differences with each other. Most of the other 10% are descendants of migrants from Guangdong, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. The other Chinese "dialects" that can be heard in the Chinese Filipino communities are Mandarin (which is taught in Chinese schools in the Philippines and spoken in varying degrees of fluency by Chinese Filipinos), Taiwanese (which is mutually intelligible with the Quanzhou and Xiamen dialects), and Cantonese.

In the Philippines, Chinese is written using traditional characters as with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other Overseas Chinese communities. The Chinese Filipino community does not use the simplified character system as with Mainland China.

Most Chinese in the Philippines, however, are quite fluent in English, Tagalog, and for those residing outside of Metro Manila, the local language of the region.

Mandarin Chinese used to be the medium of instruction in Chinese schools prior to the Filipinization policy of Former President Ferdinand Marcos. Partly as a result of Marcos' measures, Tagalog and English are gradually supplanting Chinese (Minnan and Mandarin) as the preferred medium of communication among the younger generation.


Chinese presence in the Philippines have been evident since during the ice-age, when a land bridge enabled many people from South China to settle in the Philippines. Even after the land bridge subsided, the Chinese still sailed down and frequently interacted with the local natives, and this is evidenced by a collection of priceless Chinese artifacts found in the Philippines, dating back right up to the 10th century.

The arrival of the Spaniards to the Philippines attracted many male Chinese traders from China, and maritime trade flourished during the Spanish occupation. The Spanish era restricted the activities of the Chinese. With low chances of employment and prohibited from owning land, most of them engage in trading and other businesses. Intermarriage with the Spaniards and Filipinos, however, created more opportunities. Unions between Spanish-Filpinos and Chinese are called Tornatras.

The Chinese in the Philippines can be classified into three types, based on when their ancestors first migrated. Most of the Chinese mestizos, especially the landed gentry trace their ancestry to the Spanish era. They are the "First Chinese," whose descendants nowadays are mostly either the Chinese mestizos or have assimilated into the local population. The largest group of Chinese Filipinos in the Filipinos are the "Second Chinese," who are descendants of migrants in the first half of the 20th century, between the Manchu revolution in China and the Chinese Civil War. This group accounts for most of the "full-blooded" Chinese. The "Third Chinese" are the recent immigrants from mainland China, after the Chinese economic reform of the 1990s. Generally, the "Third Chinese" are not well integrated within the community and are looked down upon by the "Second Chinese" and "First Chinese."


The Chinese Filipinos are unique in Southeast Asia in being overwhelmingly Christian. Almost all Chinese Filipinos, including the Chinese Mestizo but excluding the recent immigrants, had or will have their marriages in a Christian church. This proves that the majority of Chinese Filipinos have been baptized in a Christian church, with Catholics forming the largest group.

However, many of Chinese Filipino Catholics still tend to practice the traditional Chinese religions side by side with Catholicism, although a small number of people practising solely traditional Chinese religions do exist as well. Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and ancestor worship (including Confucianism) are the traditional Chinese beliefs that continue to have adherents among the Chinese Filipinos. Some may even have Jesus Christ as well as Buddhist gods in their altars. It is not unheard of to venerate the blessed Virgin Mary using joss sticks and Buddhist offerings, much as one would have done for Matsu. Buddhist-Taoist temples can be found where the Chinese live, especially in urban areas like Manila, and the Chinese have the tendency to go to pay respects to their ancestors at least once a year, either by going to the temple, or going to the Chinese burial grounds, often burning incense and bringing offerings like fruits and accessories made from paper. Some Chinese Filipino Catholics do have problems with this religious duality, but due to Christian proselytization, the elderly vastly outnumber the young in the Chinese temples in the Philippines.

A comparatively large number of Chinese Filipinos are also Protestants. In contrast to the Catholics, the Chinese Filipino Protestants are more devout and tend to eschew more frequently from non-Christian religions and practices.

Chinese Mestizos

Chinese mestizos — are those people in the Philippines of mixed Chinese and either Filipino or Spanish (or both) ancestry. They make up about another 2% of the total country population. A number of Chinese mestizos have surnames that reflect their heritage, mostly two or three syllables that have Chinese roots (e.g., the full name of a Chinese ancestor) with a Spanish phonetic spelling. The Chinese mestizos may also be known as Chinoys or Chinitos, although these terms may also refer to the full-blooded Chinese Filipinos.

Starting from the Spanish period, the mestizos have been afforded several opportunities that the full-blooded Chinese or the native Filipinos do not have access to. Historically, the mestizos have been economically more successful than the local population. Even to this day, a large percentage of land or plantation owners in the Philippines are the Chinese mestizos. Due to their fairer complexion, which is a coveted attribute among Filipinos even to this day, a large number of people in the film industry are mestizos.

See also Mestizos in the Philippines.

List of Famous Chinese Filipinos or Chinese Mestizos


Most of the Chinese Filipinos are descendants of Chinese who migrated three or four generations ago. In the cases of some Chinese mestizos, this can be as far back as five, six, or up to eight generations ago. Unlike in Malaysia and Indonesia where intermarriage is uncommon and people can generally be classified ethnically just by physical appearance, the Philippine definition of who is Chinese Filipino and who is Chinese mestizo can be based on one's cultural beliefs. A full-blooded Chinese who can no longer speak Chinese and no longer practice Chinese culture or beliefs is more often than not identified as a Chinese mestizo. By the same token, a Chinese mestizo who still speaks fluent Chinese and practices Chinese culture might be reintegrated into the Chinese Filipino culture. As "mestizo" often evokes a person of higher social strata, there is also a tendency to not identify those in the lower class as "mestizo" even if they are in fact of mixed descent.

As of the present day, due to rapid Westernization in the Philippines, there has been a marked tendency to acculturate to Western values. The younger Chinese Filipinos are gradually shifting to English as their preferred language, thus identifying more to the Chinese mestizo culture. Some Chinese mestizos tend also to reintegrate into the Filipino or sometimes Chinese societies. Although at a slower pace than Thailand, assimilation is gradually taking place in the Philippines.

See also

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 10:58:33
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04