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Looking Back

A relationship of 1,000 years

/ 12:10 AM October 26, 2016

President Duterte must be in stitches observing the mayhem that follows his public pronouncements. His Cabinet must learn to divine his intentions and explain his statements to the public. It’s a throwback to the Marcos era, when people learned to read between the lines in the controlled media, or at least to suspect that there may be more than one way to understand a presidential statement, official or otherwise.

Contrary to popular belief, the oldest friend of the Philippines is China, not the United States, because our relationship with the Middle Kingdom literally goes beyond the Philippines’ recorded history. The long and complex relationship between China and the people of an archipelago that was yet to be known as “Islas Filipinas” or “El Archipelago Filipino” or “P.I.” or “R.P.” goes back 1,000 years to the Tang dynasty (618-906), as evidenced by Tang or Tang-style ceramics excavated in our archeological sites.

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A brief reference in the “Shiann Tung Kuo” (A General Investigation of the Chinese Cultural Sources) produced in 1317-1319 notes: “There were traders of the country of Mo-yi carrying merchandise to the coast of Canton in the seventh year of Tai-ping-shing-kuo” (by our Western-oriented reckoning, 982 AD). In contrast, America intruded into our history on May 1, 1898, when George Dewey sank the Spanish fleet off Cavite, marking the first shot in the Spanish-American War. It is often forgotten that this first shot did not occur anywhere near Washington or Madrid, but half the world away in Manila Bay.

It is also forgotten that when the Americans occupied Intramuros on Aug. 13, 1898, they left out Aguinaldo and his men who had brought the Spanish colonial government to its knees. America did not recognize the declaration of independence from Spain made from Aguinaldo’s Kawit home on June 12,1898; neither did it recognize the Malolos government when it bought the Philippines and its people from Spain for $20 million through the Treaty of Paris negotiated in December 1898 and ratified in February 1899, the outbreak of the Philippine-American war. So much for the dustbin of history.

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Historians are unsure about these “traders from Mo-yi” who presented their goods in Canton, and how they got from what is now the Philippines to China. One school of thought says the Mo-yi traders sailed to China with their goods on a friendly Arab ship, as hinted early on by the pioneering prehistorian H. Otley Beyer, but then the more nationalistic want us to believe that the Mo-yi traders arrived in Canton in their own sailing vessels. Why would a superintendent of marine trade be appointed in Canton to entertain business from “barbarian” merchants from Mo-yi if they only hitched a ride on an Arab, Japanese, or even Chinese, trading ship?

Although we have to guess a lot from the available text, one early Chinese document that should be included in Philippine history textbooks is the “Chu-fan-chi” (A Description of the Barbarous Peoples) by Chau Ju-Kua or Zhao Ru-gua dating back to 1225. It describes the trade with many countries that include Ma-I and San-su, which are generally believed to be part of the Philippines based on the geographic coordinates supplied by his informants.

“The country of Ma-I is to the north of Po-ni (Borneo),” wrote Chau Ju-kua. “The following places belong to this country: San-su (Three Islands), Pai-p’u-yen (Babuyan Islands), P’u-lu-lu (Polilo), Li-kin-tung (Lingayen), Liu-Sun (Luzon), and Li-han (Lubang).”

And again he wrote: “The San-su belong to Ma-I; their names are Kia-ma-yen (Calamianes), Pa-lau-yu (Palawan), and Pa-ki-nung (Busuanga).” The eminent Gregorio Zaide, whose footnotes are always a delight to read for the obscure information they contain, said Kia-ma-yen was believed to be Mindanao by Rizal and Mindoro by the American historians James Alexander Robertson and Emma Helen Blair.

To take a long view, whatever irritants we currently endure, be it drugs and tainted toys imported from China or disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea, these seem like mere hiccups in a relationship that stretches back 1,000 years.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.

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TAGS: China, History, Philippines, Tang dynasty
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