As a Chinoy, you’ve probably imbibed a wealth of history lessons from both your Chinese and Filipino classes. However, history rarely ever talks about women, and when it does, it’s usually about the same few people. How many times have you heard the story of Hua Mulan or Gabriela Silang? While they definitely deserve to be remembered, there are a lot more heroic women whose names have fallen through the cracks. Here are some notable Chinese and Filipino women who you’ve probably never heard of.
Remedios Gomez-Paraiso (1919-2014)
Remedios Gomez Paraiso, better known as Kumander Liwayway, was a leader of a HukBalaHap (Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon) rebel army during the Japanese occupation. She was a beauty queen in her teenage years, but after the Japanese executed her father for rebellion, she fled her home and took up arms to join the Hukbalahap movement. She started out as a nurse but climbed the ranks until she became a commander. She is known to dress formally and wear red lipstick into battle because she is “fighting for the right to be herself.” One of her most heroic moments was when she refused to retreat during the Battle of Kamansi and fought off the Japanese forces despite being outnumbered.
Lin Siniang (1629-1644)
Lin Siniang was a concubine of the feudal lord Zhu Changsu. She was born into a poor family, but despite their situation, her father still taught her how to wield a sword. She is said to have taken to sword fighting like a fish to water and became proficient with the weapon at the age of six. When her family died, she was forced into prostitution, and she eventually caught the attention of Zhu Changsu. Zhu Changsu was so impressed by Lin Siniang’s sword fighting skills that he asked her to train the rest of his concubines to fight as well. Lin Siniang ended up forming an all-female army, and when Zhu Changsu was captured by rebel soldiers, it was Lin Siniang and her army who came to his rescue. Unfortunately, Lin Siniang was killed during this battle at the age of 15, but she was given a hero’s burial by Zhu Changsu.
Josefina Guerero (1917-1996)
Josefina Guerero was a Filipina spy for the Allied Forces during WWII. She idolized Joan of Arc and had always wanted to be a hero, but things took a turn for the worst when she was diagnosed with leprosy (which was believed to be contagious during her time). Her husband left her and took their daughter with them, and when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1942, she lost access to her medication. This made her spiral into depression, but then she decided that if she were to die, she was going to die with honor. She joined the army as a spy, and her leprosy worked to her advantage as the Japanese did not conduct full body searches on her in fear of contracting her disease. As a result, she was able to smuggle valuable maps and documents to the resistance soldiers, which later became instrumental to the victory of the Allied Forces.
Zheng Yi Sao (1775-1884)
Zheng Yi Sao (whose maiden name was Shi Yang) was a pirate leader who commanded around 1500 to 1800 ships composed of 80,000 sailors. She was also the unofficial commander of the Guangdong Pirate Confederation. During her early life, she was either a prostitute or a brothel keeper, but she left her home to become the wife of an infamous pirate called Zheng Yi. Together, they formed a fleet of loyal pirates who terrorized the seas, but when her husband died unexpectedly, she didn’t surrender her power and instead took up her husband’s mantle as the commander. She is often hailed as the most successful pirate in history, given her vast army and the taxation system she created to maintain her vessels.
Maria Ylagan Orosa (1892-1945)
Maria Ylagan Orosa was a food technologist and pharmaceutical chemist who revolutionized the food industry during WWII. Orosa was a member of the guerilla forces, but instead of being a soldier or a spy, she worked behind the scenes as a food specialist. She invented Soyalac, a protein powder that had complete nutrition, and Darak, a rice bran powder that was packed with vitamins. She also developed a process for preserving and canning food for the guerilla forces. Her inventions saved many lives, especially those of the Filipino and American soldiers who were detained in internment camps. She also created the beloved banana ketchup.
Wang Zhenyi (1768-1797)
Wang Zhenyi was born during a time when women didn’t have the right to education, but she still worked to educate herself and excelled in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. She had particularly valuable contributions to astronomy, as she was able to explain different celestial phenomena like equinoxes and eclipses. Aside from being an academic, she was also a poet and wrote thirteen volumes of poetry with topics ranging from classics, history, her travel experiences, and gender equality.