Close the ‘Chinese schools’?

02:07 AM August 18, 2015

AN OFFHAND comment in F. Sionil José’s commentary (Page 1, Inquirer, 7/26/15) has spurred talk about closing all the Chinese schools in the Philippines, which supposedly serve as walls preventing Chinese-Filipinos from proper integration. But this line of reasoning is stuck in the past. “Chinese schools” have not legally existed as separate from Filipino schools since 1977, and any Filipino citizen regardless of ethnicity is free to enroll. The only difference is that schools that cater to

Chinese-Filipinos have Chinese language and culture in their curriculum. These concerns about Chinese schools were valid decades ago, but now the debate is long obsolete.


From 1911 up until the end of World War II, Chinese schools in the Philippines were very much about Chinese nationalism. There were two flags and two anthems, and school assemblies were often occasions for moralistic harangues about being a “true Chinese.” Schools followed a dual curricular system, with the morning devoted to subjects prescribed by the Philippine government and the afternoon reserved for subjects prescribed by the newly-founded Republic of China (ROC), which we know today as Taiwan. Textbooks and teachers were imported from China and were strictly controlled. Students who completed the Chinese curriculum were eligible for automatic admission to universities in China. Summer study tours for students were avenues for indoctrination.

In 1949, the ROC lost a civil war on the mainland against the communists and retreated to Taiwan, while Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This began a change in the nature of Chinese schools in the Philippines.


Faced with an increasingly impotent ROC and a communist PRC, more and more Chinese in the Philippines opted for naturalization, although it was a very expensive process. Many courts saw any kind of Chinese school as the last roadblock to becoming a Filipino citizen, with one judge rejecting a petitioner for having Filipino teachers but not Filipino classmates. Inspectors excoriated Chinese schools for not having pictures of Jose Rizal and having too many signs in Chinese. It did not help that Chinese civics textbooks taught students about the “higher status of ordered societies such as Taiwan compared to nations with widespread social malaise such as the Philippines.”

In the 1960s, educators began to suggest that in order to prevent Chinese youth in the Philippines from continuing to be “indigestible foreign elements,” Chinese schools had to be abolished, and their students had to be required to attend Filipino schools full time.

A press campaign supporting this started in May 1964, which reportedly gained President Diosdado Macapagal’s backing. One clueless author, assuming that Filipinos were only worried about communism, argued against closing Chinese schools by proudly declaring that “the overseas Chinese who support these schools owe allegiance to Chiang Kai-Shek and the free government of China,” which only made Filipinos more uncomfortable.

Naturalized Chinese-Filipinos, threatened with losing their passports, were in favor of removing the Chinese flag and anthem, and some relocated their children to schools such as Ateneo de Manila. As a response to the furor, on June 4, 1964, the Jesuit-run Kuang Chi School changed its name to “Xavier School,” took down signs in Chinese, rolled back its

Chinese curriculum to cover only language and literature, and applied to change its status to “Filipino school with special curriculum,” which put it under the exclusive authority of the Philippine government.

The now-Filipinized Xavier was quickly denounced by the conservative Chinese press as opportunistic and unpatriotic, but by 1966, seven other Chinese schools had been

Filipinized as well. From then on, calls to close the Chinese schools were replaced by calls for them to emulate Xavier’s Filipinization model.


By the late 1960s, almost no Chinese-school student was heading to Taiwan for college, while more and more were dropping out of the Chinese curriculum. In 1972, Taiwan’s influence was extinguished when Ferdinand Marcos, following US President Richard Nixon’s lead, ended diplomatic relations with it and instead opened relations with the PRC.

Finally, the 1973 Constitution was promulgated, with Article XV, Section 8(7) prohibiting the establishment of schools “exclusively for aliens” and mandating that only Filipino citizens could control schools. This same provision can be found word for word in the 1987 Constitution, in Article XIV, Section 4(2), and so still applies today. Chinese schools were given until 1977 to reduce their enrollment of non-Filipino citizens to only a third, after which their legal designation would be changed to “former Chinese schools.” This demand would have spelled the death of most Chinese schools if not for a follow-up decree providing for the mass naturalization of Chinese.

With this, the remaining Chinese schools underwent a facelift, abolishing the dual curriculum, using Philippine textbooks, and renaming their schools to remove any overt references to “Chineseness.” Philippine Chinese High School, for example, became Philippine Cultural High School.

It has been almost 40 years since then, more than enough time for a whole Filipinized Chinese generation to graduate and start their own families. The role of “Chinese schools” as an instrument of Chinese nationalism and political indoctrination is ancient history. For almost 40 years, Chinese schools have been Filipino schools.

Arnold Lau, 24, is a graduate of Xavier School and Ateneo de Manila University (development studies, summa cum laude). He is pursuing a master’s degree in quantitative methods in the social sciences at Columbia University in New York.

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