Tributes to the Chinese emperor | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Tributes to the Chinese emperor

/ 12:24 AM November 04, 2016

It’s surprising that for all the references to pre-Spanish and prehistoric relations between the Philippines and China, the Chinese are unable to show a China map that shows the disputed territory referenced in Spanish-era maps of the Philippines. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio surveyed many maps to demolish the historical argument advanced by China even if it does not figure in the present dispute. I hope a young Filipino historian competent in ancient Chinese can add to the handful of early Chinese accounts available in English. For example, I want to know more about the “tribute missions” from Sulu that were received in China in the years 1417, 1420, 1421, 1423, and 1424. Gregorio Zaide provides a bit in his multivolume “Documentary Sources of Philippine History” (National Bookstore, 1990):

“In the year 1417, according to a reference in the Dutch scholar W.P. Groenvelt, the eastern king of this country (Sulu) Paduka Paha-la (Batara), the western king Ma-hala-ch’ih (Maharajah), and the king of the mountain Ka-la-ba-ting called Paduka Prabu, brought their families and their chiefs, all together more than 340 persons, and came over the sea to court in order to carry tribute. They presented a letter of gold, with characters engraved upon it, and offered pearls, precious stones, tortoise shell and other articles. They were treated as those of Malacca, and after some time they were each appointed king of their country and presented with a seal, a commission, a complete court dress, a cap, a girdle, a horse with trappings, insignia of their rank and other things; their followers also got caps and girls, according to their rank. The three kings remained 27 days and when they were about to return, each of them got silk with patterns, 300 pieces of plain silk, 10,000 taels in paper money, 2,000 strings of cash, one robe embroidered with golden snakes, one with dragons, and one with kilins (mythical creatures with features of a horned-dragon, body of an ox or horse, and hooves).


“The eastern king died in the government hotel at Te-chou (in Shantung province); the Emperor sent an officer to perform sacrifices and offered the authorities to provide the funeral and arrange for the tomb. He got a posthumous title and his wife and concubines remained with 18 followers to take care of the grave; when they had finished the three years of mourning, they were sent back to their country, and the Emperor sent at the same time an envoy with a letter to the late king’s son Tu-ma-han; the letter was of the following contents:

“Your father knew to honor the Middle Kingdom and he came himself with his family and officers to escort him back, but when the boat had arrived at Te-chow, he became ill and died. When I heard this I was very sorry; I ordered a burial and sacrifices, according to the rules, and as you are the eldest son of his first wife, the people of the country belong to you and it is fit that you should succeed him, in order to satisfy the people. I therefore appoint you eastern king of Sulu; you must more and more cultivate your feelings of loyalty and respectfully follow the way prescribed by Heaven, to assist my loving disposition and continue the intentions of your father. Respect this.


“In the year 1420 the western king sent an envoy to bring tribute.

“In the year 1421 the mother of the eastern king sent to court a brother of her late husband, called Paduka Su-li; he presented as tribute a large pearl, weighing more than seven taels.

“In the year 1423 the concubine of the late eastern king, returning to her country, was sent away with liberal presents. The next year they sent tribute again, but did not come anymore afterwards.”

Aside from reports by journalists who visited the memorial for the “eastern king” of Sulu built in 1417 and interviewed descendants of the retainers who remained in China to perform the rituals for the dead, there is a Filipino-Chinese film loosely based on the foregoing data. “Hari sa Hari, Lahi sa Lahi,” directed by Lili Chou and Eddie Romero, was produced in 1987. What was once a historical footnote becomes relevant in our present relations with China.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: China, History, Philippines, Sulu
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