Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena was quoted as saying “Cebu has no Chinatown, because Cebu is Chinatown. They have integrated themselves into the community and an inseparable part of the culture.” As the Philippine’s second largest metropolitan area, Cebu City is home to two million people and is fast re-establishing itself as an integral and prosperous hub.
Given this, Cebu City is a melting pot of all kinds of cultures, with the Chinese community playing a major role in the city’s economy and culture. With that, here are 5 ways Cebu is one giant Chinatown.
Chinese Heritage in Cebu
Long before Magellan arrived in 1521, Chinese traders had already left an indelible mark on the island. Chinese traders had written about and sailed to Cebu since the 13th century, and quickly rose to prominence during Spanish colonial times.
A trip to Cebu’s historical Parian district is rife with Chinese influences due to its history as Cebu’s former home to Chinese immigrants. There are the opulent ancestral houses belonging to Chinese merchants such as the Yap-San Diego House. Not too far as well is the Casa Gorordo Museum, a heritage house belonging to the first native Filipino bishop which is rich with native, Spanish, and Chinese influences.
Many of Cebu’s industrialists have Chinese ancestry
Another area where the Chinese community has influenced Cebu is in its industry. Cebu has long been a trading, industrial, and tourism hub, and many of Cebu’s industries were founded by Chinese entrepreneurs.
One familiar name would be John Gokongwei Sr, a man who started from peddling items in the streets of Cebu to becoming one of the country’s wealthiest men. Today, Gokongwei’s children own the Robinsons chain of malls and Cebu Pacific airlines. Similarly, Cebu’s ports would not function the same way without Sulpicio Lines and Cokaliong Shipping Lines, both founded by Chinoy businessmen.
Chinese influence is visible in many of Cebu’s landmarks and public services
Both past and present landmarks in Cebu City show the island’s rich Chinese heritage. For quiet reflection, there is the Cebu Taoist Temple and the FGS Chu Un temple set up by the local Chinese Buddhist community.
Beyond culture, Chinese-Cebuanos have also contributed charities and social services for the public good. Cebu’s Chong Hua Hospital was set up by Asociacion Benevola de Chinos (Benevolent Association of the Chinese) to provide reliable healthcare to Cebuanos. Nearby there is the Cebu Filipino-Chinese Volunteers Fire Brigade which has saved thousands of lives all across Cebu.
Cebuano Cuisine is uniquely Chinese influenced
Feeling hungry? Many of Cebu’s iconic foods and restaurants have a unique Chinese flavor. Uniquely local street foods like paklay, kiamoy, masi, and ngohiong all trace their roots to Fujianese traders. There are also household names like Ding Qua Qua, Harbour City, and Dimsum Break that are beloved by Cebuanos of all walks of life.
The Chinoys who have become Cebu’s Pride and Joy
In the realm of pop culture, many of Cebu’s beloved actors, singers and influencers are proud Chinoys. First there is Kim Chiu, who won our hearts with teleseryes such as My Girl and My Binondo Girl. Chinoy actor and heartthrob Richard Yap aka “Sir Chief” of Be Careful With My Heart is also a true blue Cebuano, having run for Congress for Cebu in 2022.
On social media, few influencers have attained a following like Kryz Uy and Slater Young. As a beloved couple, they have showered our social media feeds with kilig moments and adorable clips of their two boys Scott and Sevi. On the global stage, Kenneth Cobonpue’s furniture designs have graced the homes of both European and Hollywood royalty for the past two decades. Hailed as rattan’s first virtuoso, his sleek bamboo designed furniture is a tribute to his Cebuano roots.