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4 Filipino- Chinese Revolutionaries To Remember

The one and only time I visited the downtown building of my Chinese family association, I noticed a seemingly random portrait of Jose Rizal on the wall. Jokingly, I asked my parents if our national hero was actually a distantly related ancestor of sorts. They replied that they didn’t even know Rizal had Chinese roots. Then we forgot to look it up, so the question remained forgotten for the next decade. Now that I’m working on this article, however, a quick Google search tells me that Jose Rizal did have Chinese ancestry, and that his Chinese surname was probably Co, which actually fit one of the surnames belonging to our family association. (It’s complicated. Our association carries the names of five Chinese families. But I digress.)

The point is that, throughout the centuries, those who’ve migrated to the Philippines from China have adopted localized surnames whose origins have often been lost to time. As a result, it sometimes comes as a delightful surprise to discover that some prominent historical Filipino figures actually carry some Chinese heritage. Say, for example, Andrew Bonifacio — the Father of Philippine Revolution! 

Yup, that national hero was known to have Chinese blood, too. And so do a couple more. In honor of Bonifacio’s namesake holiday today, we’ve done our research and compiled a list of Chinoy heroes and revolutionaries whose lives have made a mark on the Philippine nation. Check them out here!


Jose Rizal 

In another world, Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado Y Alonso Realonda might have grown up under the much shorter name Jose Co. This is because Rizal was actually a mestizo — or in other words, the son of a Filipino father and a Chinese mother whose ancestry traces back to the province of Fujian, China. 

According to historical records, Rizal is the great-great grandson of Siang Co and Zun Nio, who lived in the village of Sionque. Their son Lam Co migrated to the Philippines in 1690 to live in Binondo, where he was later baptized with the Christian name Domingo Co. Afterward, he married the Chinese mestiza Ines dela Rosa. In 1731, Co and dela Rosa then had a son who acquired the Christian name Francisco Mercado, dropping the Co surname. Francisco went on to marry Bernarda Monica, a native from a nearby hacienda in San Pedro, Laguna. This union resulted in the two sons Clemente and Juan, the latter of whom would come to be Rizal’s grandfather. Juan Mercado then wed the Chinese mestiza Cirila Alejandro to have thirteen children, including Rizal’s own father Francisco Engracio Mercado. 

Finally, Francisco Engracio would then meet his wife Teodoro Alonso y Realonda while studying Latin and Philosophy at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. It was only in this generation that the Rizal surname came to be, being born out of necessity after an 1848 decree that mandated Filipino and Chinese immigrants to adopt Spanish family names. Jose, along with his ten siblings, afterward became known as Rizal Mercado. However, Jose would then drop the Mercado name to avoid being associated with his brother Paciano, who was under surveillance by the Spanish authorities for being linked to the Gomburza martyrs. 


Manuel Tinio

Did you know that the youngest general of the Katipunan has Chinese roots? According to historical references, Manuel Tinio’s Chinese ancestry is traced back to his paternal grandmother’s side, from which the Tinio surname had originated. Despite the fact that his father Mariano’s surname had originally been Santiago, the family proceeded to adopt the family name of Mariano’s mother because of an 1849 decree declaring that all indios and Chinese mestizos must change their surname if they coincided with saint names. 

Following history of this side of the family, the Tinios’ first recorded ancestor, Juan Tinio (born around 1720), was recorded to be an indio natural (i.e. a native Filipino), so Manuel Tinio’s claim to his Chinese heritage might be a bit distant. Essentially, it is implied that either Juan Tinio’s grandfather or an earlier forefather was a full-blooded Chinese. 

But regardless, whether Manuel’s surname had deep Chinese roots or not does nothing to diminish the achievements he had already gained for the Philippines. By the age of 20, Manuel was appointed brigadier general for the Katipunan. He won 10 out of 13 battles against both the Spanish and American colonists and led his men to several victories. In 1907, he was elected governor of Nueva Ecija. 


Jose Ignacio Paua

Although many revolutions have been led by mestizos, Jose Ignacio Paua stands out specifically for being the Katipunan’s sole full-blooded Chinese member. As an immigrant from Fujian, Paua was known for leading an intriguing life after settling down in Tondo in 1890. For instance, even though Paua worked as a seemingly normal blacksmith during the day, he also led the T’ien Ti Hui Triad gang and maintained questionable connections to a secret society in China.

As a Katipunero, Paua, together with 3,000 supporters, lent support to the Revolution by fighting beside Emilio Aguinaldo in Cavite, as well as establishing a foundry that provided arms to the cause. For his contributions in the field, Paua then gained Aguinaldo’s trust and was promoted to brigadier general. However, it was also with this trust that Aguinaldo would assign to Paua what would perhaps be his life’s most infamous act. 

Assigned to arrest the former supremo of the Katipunan, Paua’s actions escalated to violence when he subdued Andres Bonfiacio by stabbing the latter in the neck. Despite this, he remained unpunished by Aguinaldo and survived the war before becoming the mayor of Manito, Albay. He later died in 1926, ultimately a defeated revolutionary rendered into a tool for American colonial rule. 


Andres Bonifacio

The Father of the Philippine Revolution was a mestizo just like many of his revolutionary peers, his claim to his Chinese heritage given to him by his maternal grandmother. Specifically, records reveal that Andres Bonifacio was the eldest child of Santiago Bonifacio and Catalina de Castro, with his mother born from a Spanish father and a Filipino-Chinese mother. Beyond that, however, not much is known about how much the Chinese blood of his mestizo upbringing affected Bonifacio. Instead, it is his efforts in fighting for Philippine independence that are recognized, criticized, and praised through the documentation of his life and its impact on the country. 

It is important to note that, at the beginning of it all, Bonifacio’s movements started with the pen rather than the sword. Although most remember Bonifacio for founding a historically iconic revolutionary group, he was also known to be one of the founding members of Jose Rizal’s La Liga Filipina, a secret organization that dispensed scholarship funds and legal aid with the aim of building a new group to help in reforming the country. It was only later on when Rizal’s deportation from the Philippines was announced that Bonifacio proactively pursued non-peaceful measures and officially established the Katipunan. 

Shortly after, Bonifacio instigated the tearing of cedulas at the Cry of Pugad Lawin to launch the Philippine Revolution. He then marshaled the beginning of a wave of nationwide uprisings, personally leading forces and fighting along his people. He also reorganized the Katipunan as a revolutionary government and served as its president from 1896 to 1897. As the commander-in-chief, he supervised the planning of military strategies and the preparation of orders and decrees, as well as mediated political disputes, among other responsibilities, before his untimely death by controversial trial under Emilio Aguinaldo’s men. 

Ultimately, as a result of his efforts and contributions towards Philippine independence, Bonifacio has rightfully been honored as one of the country’s most celebrated national heroes. 


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