Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bahay Tsinoy - Saga of the Chinese Culture in the Philippines

One of the most surprisingly engaging museum visits I've had was with Balay Tsinoy, a museum that pays homage to the migration and evolution of all things Chinese in the Philippines, including their eventual assimilation into the society.

Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center courtesy of wikipedia.
It can't be emphasized enough that the Chinese influence is tangible enough to merit a look back into a colorful history of their origin and migration. Though I mostly find photographic displays in museums boring, I was absolutely enamored with the old photographs of Manila and could hear Barbra Streisand humming "The Way We Were" ever so gently inside my head.

The museum is tastefully presented in beautiful dioramas and depictions, reminding us that our everyday contemporary lives are subtlely influenced by the Chinese culture. Moreover, this heritage center helps promote cultural identity. After all, the "tsinoys" (Chinese Filipinos) aren't foreigners. They are our brothers and fellow Filipinos who share similar dreams of decent progressive lives.

I didn't realize that the term "Sangley" refers to "Filipinos with some Chinese ancestry". The term was used by the Spaniards for the Chinese, coming from the word "seng-li" which means "business" in the Amoy dialect. Even back then, Chinese immigrants were business-oriented and hard workers. Fact is, 90% of the Chinese during the first 2 centuries of the colonial regime came from the Fujian province; the rest from Canton. They came to the archipelago as merchants, laborers and artisans. They helped build the colonial city. This explains why there are fu dragons seen at the vicinity of San Agustin Church as well as some bridges leading towards Binondo. These fu dragons are even found at the gates of Cebu Cathedral. These days, tsinoys whose ancestry hail from Fujian are called "Lan-nang" (a Hokkien term) while those from the Guandong province are called "Ken-tang-lang". Sangleys comprise 18-27% of the Philippine population. About 1.5 million Filipinos have pure Chinese ancestry.

Housed in the Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center in the walled city of Intramuros (somewhere at the back of the Manila Cathedral), the museum is spread on two floors and divided into different sections: The Early Contacts, Parian, Colonial Culture, Emergence of the Chinese Community, In Defense of Freedom, Life in the 1800s, National Leaders of Chinese Descent, Gallery of Rare Prints and Photographs, Martyr's Hall, Ceramics Collection, Rare Philippine Shells Collection, and the most recent "Tsinoys in Nation Building" (2004). I am thus inviting everyone to come and visit this museum.

This tells stories not just about the Chinese in the Philippines. This tells the story of our nation as well.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

The Spaniards persecuted the Chinese leading to massacres. The Sangleys were separated into quarters called Parian where they worked and lived. Parian was equivalent to today's Chinatown. Similarly, a Parian District is found in Colon, Cebu City.   

Entrance to San Agustin Church

The Public Reader reads and writes letters for a fee, servicing illiterate Chinese folks.

Ilustrado or "the enlightened class" emerged at the end of the 19th century. Influenced by liberal ideas then prevalent in Europe, the intellectuals from Chinese mestizo families and wealthy indios began to think of national concerns giving birth to the "Filipino identity" an aroused sense of nationhood paving the way to a unified cry for reforms.

Chinese gastronomy: pansit, lumpia, siopao, etc.

In 1890, Rosario Street was one of the finest shopping centers in Binondo.

Ceramics dating from the 10th to the 17th century 

For more information, visit their website here:

The museum is open daily except Tuesdays, from 1PM to 5PM only. Entrance fee is PhP100 for adults and PhP60 for students and children. Photography is allowed inside. The heritage center is located at #32 Anda corner Cabildo Streets, Intramuros, Manila. Address your specific queries here - (632) 5276083 and (632) 5266796. Email them at

A painting on display by the stairs leading to the second level.


Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hello greetings and good wishes.

Amazing photos with excellent commentary. Each photo tell a story.
These photos are very precious.

Best wishes

eye in the sky said...

Thanks for the kind words, Joseph. :)

Ramakrishnan said...

Incredibly beautiful series of images of Tsinoys. Wonderful they in any way related to the Chinoys community of India :)

eye in the sky said...

I have never been to a Chinatown in any of the Indian cities I have visited, but there should be one I suppose. They tend to stay together. I would think that they could come from various places in China as well, but with a population as big as theirs, there should be a possibility of some of them being related one way or another.

Sherry Ellis said...

Looks like a fascinating museum. Thanks for sharing the photos and information!

eye in the sky said...

I think people will enjoy this little museum though not a lot of people get to visit it. It deserves more visitors.