Did you know that Chinese settlements in Cebu date as far as back before Magellan discovered the island?
If you’ve ever had any doubts as to how long the Chinese communities have been here, you can simply set foot at the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum (SCHM)! Just as its name suggests, the institution showcases centuries’ worth of history and trade between China and Cebu, having proudly become the home to artifacts and relics from as far back as the illustrious Tang dynasty (618–907 AD).
Located a mere two minutes’ walk away from the iconic Magellan’s Cross, the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum is strategically situated in the roots of Cebu, having been conceptualized in a 2010 Jesuit Chinese-Filipino Lay Apostolate’s Conference to reflect the relevance and celebration of the Chinese-Cebuano community and its heritage. Then, after a long 10 years of meticulous planning and hard work, the three-story museum celebrated its soft opening on the auspicious date of February 20, 2020.
Although the institution was temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic that shortly followed, the SCHM is now re-opening its doors on October 21, 2022 for this year’s edition of Gabii sa Kabilin — a special event that celebrates Cebu’s rich cultural heritage with a tour of 20 participating museums.
Sharing a glimpse of what the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum has to offer, CHiNOY TV has reached out for an interview with Mr. Bob D. Gothong, a founding member and chairman of the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum Foundation, as well as the CEO of the Gothong Southern Group of Companies.
On celebrating history
Although plans for the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum (SCHM) started as early as September of 2010, almost an entire decade was spent for them to be fully realized. Among the developments made for the SCHM is its use of the neoclassically designed Gotiaoco Building, which is, in its own right, a historical landmark that took three years from 2016 to 2019 to renovate.
“The Gotiaoco Building is a century-old artifact itself and was declared a Heritage Site by the City Council of Cebu in December 2012. Built in 1914 by the Chinese migrant Manuel Gotianuy, it is seated in the heart of the business and trading zone in Cebu and was once considered as the beacon structure of trade and commerce in the city that brought about the rise of Cebu’s economy,” shared Gothong.
Said to be the first commercial building outside of Metro Manila to have an elevator and air conditioning, the heritage structure perfectly serves as a symbol of the Chinese-Cebuano community who has thrived in the country for generations, making it the ideal location for the SCHM.
“The Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum represents inclusivity,” explained Gothong. “It is a formal institution that was created with the main task of building the first Chinese-Cebuano museum to showcase centuries of collaboration between the Chinese and Filipino people. Eponymous to the foundation, the museum will exhibit artifacts, heritage pieces, [and] heirloom collections to narrate, preserve, and promote the Cebuano-Chinese culture, tradition, and legacy.”
One of the best exhibits that the museum features, for example, is its replica of a 13th-century Chinese junk ship.
“Definitely, the plight of the Sugbu-Chinese is best experienced in the [museum’s] ground floor, wherein a replica of a junk is set as the centerpiece, portraying both the means and the medium of the journey of the pioneering Chinese who came to Cebu during the 13th century in search for a better life — away from the political, social, and economic unrest of their homeland,” said Gothong.
On looking forward to the future
After more than a decade of plans and two years of pandemic delays, the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum looks forward to fully opening the museum to the public soon. “Our exhibit and design team is already in the planning stage on how the narrative would be executed,” said Gothong.
“We plan to have a special exhibition on the contribution of the Chinese community in addressing and cushioning the impacts of the pandemic. In Cebu, various Chinese organizations and associations have exerted their efforts to help the economy bounce back. This value of teamwork and sense of community is what we would like to embed in our narrative,” he continued.
As a Chinoy himself, SCHM Chairman Bob Gothong expresses that contributing to this vision among like-minded people in the Cebuano-Chinese community is what he truly enjoys: “The members of the Board are themselves emperors and empresses in their dominions, all busy with their personal and professional endeavors. But all have gathered together, in the pursuit of our goal to preserve and promote the Cebuano-Chinese heritage and history. That is how much this work means to us.”
“Here we are, 12 years in this journey, and we are still in all hopes of achieving the dream we once laid. I didn’t even notice that’s how long we have been working on the promotion and preservation of the Sugbu Chinese history,” said Gothong.
“For the Chinoy community, this is a signal of our inclusion in the center stage — and not merely members of the minority on the sidelines.”
For more information on the Sugbu Chinese Heritage museum, check out SCHM’s Facebook page here!