The Filipino-Chinese identity

KIONG Hee Huat Tsai! Wishing great prosperity for all.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Lunar year and the Philippines, being one with the Filipino-Chinese community, celebrated the biggest holiday in the Chinese culture. The centuries of interacting with the Chinese who first entered the islands as merchants have resulted in a blending of two very distinct

identities. Parts of the Chinese culture have been so ingrained in the Filipino identity that the community itself forms a significant part of the Filipino identity.

As we ushered in another year in the Lunar calendar, it is safe to say that the presence of the Chinese is very much felt and celebrated in our country as establishments and streets are decked with red lanterns and decorations bearing new year greetings in Chinese.

People always wonder why the Chinese are successful in business or at least seem to gear towards an entrepreneurial career. And, of course, the Chinese business model of low-profit, high volume sales of the ‘Made In China’ products seem to be widely practiced among these establishments. Chinese business practices are passed down from one generation to another, earning Chinese businessmen a longstanding stereotype. For the most part, the image Filipinos have of the Filipino-Chinese community would be of frugality, hard work, strong familial ties, and total obedience and reverence to elders – all of which stems from influences of Confucianism in the Chinese culture.

While Filipinos have long accepted a very distinct Tsinoy identity into our own, it is still worth understanding the complete non-Filipino side or the entirely Chinese side to their culture.


The Chinese are very much influenced by Confucianism or way of life derived from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. The Confucian way of life served as the main ideology in China for a long period of time before it was replaced by the ideologies that was used in the Republic of China and currently in the Communist People’s Republic of China.

Confucianism teaches the The Five Virtues: humanism, righteousness, propriety, knowledge, and integrity – the first three being the most important. It is said that the core of Confucian tradition is humanism (ren), the virtue of benevolence and of being human. By this, we learn what is arguably the greatest Confucian teaching – the importance of roles or how we interact with people. There are five different relationships that one can have with another: father to son, elder brother to younger brother, husband to wife, elder to junior, ruler to subject. Confucius believes that it is important to know the relationships the different roles must have and to establish a hierarchy in order for people to know their responsibilities.

In a Filipino-Chinese family, there is great respect given to the eldest in the family. Decisions on family and business matters rely deeply on the opinions and advice of the elders. This goes hand in hand with another Confucian teaching, filial piety or reverence towards one’s parents. Individuals have to act in a manner that would earn respect and praise to the parents. Acting the opposite would bring shame to the parents and goes against the fundamentals of the Confucian practice. It also calls for not only the physical love and care towards parents but also an emotional and spiritual care for them that, in the event the parents die, their wishes has to be fulfilled by the child.

The second of the five virtues is righteousness(yi), the “moral disposition to do good.” Righteousness implies that a person must be able to decipher between what is morally good and morally bad and would choose to do what is good. This also implies that a person in any given situation would always choose to do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do. Righteousness not only requires choosing to do what is good, but doing it “regardless of the intention or consequences of the act”.

Propriety (li) can be sometimes translated to mean rituals or morals. It is through humanity that we can see propriety. Propriety should not be understood as the Western idea of rituals or customs, but rather in the Confucian meaning – it is the manner of interaction of humans, nature, and material objects. It also constitutes the proper means of addressing one another as well as proper conduct since Confucianism was heavily geared towards ethics in society. Propriety becomes the standards by which a person should conduct himself in the community.

Though the modern Chinese, both mainland and Filipino-Chinese, are moving towards a more globalized identity, it is these small ideals and characteristics that keep them connected to the traditions of their ancestors. And perhaps the positive influences of Confucianism as well as Chinese characteristics of frugality and delayed-gratification are key in the success of many Chinese individuals – something that many Filipinos can learn from and be influenced by.

As we celebrate a new year once again, let us look prospectively and positively for a fruitful and prosperous year ahead.


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