When I think of the Chinese, immediately I’m transported to this old restaurant, The Rice Bowl. It once stood somewhere in Ongpin, Binondo. There, my family and I spent our supper during weekends. I looked forward to such treats as a child for obvious reasons. Chinese delicacies stood second in our family’s list of dinner favorites topped by Filipino entrees.
When I think of China, however, I go way, way back to ancient China and its dynasties. In the same cone as ancient Egypt, I have always been fascinated by China’s history. Its breathtaking monuments like the Great Wall. Or the Forbidden City. Its swathe of mountain ranges, the ancient temples, its art and culture. All of China’s proud heritage.
The Boxer Rebellion is one such revolutionary heritage. It tells me a lot about the Chinese people, the so-called Yihetuans, or the Militia United in Righteousness. They formed a nationalist movement which fought against foreign domination sometime at the turn of the 20th century. Foreign influence had transformed the way of life of the Chinese people, once beautiful and thriving, into poverty, famine and abuse.
The so-called Boxers, most of whom were trained in the Chinese art of hand-to-hand combat, or martial arts, raised an armed rebellion against an eight-nation foreign alliance, which included America, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Austria and Hungary. They were the colonizers of the era.
During the first few armed encounters, the Boxers won. However, it didn’t take long for the eight-nation alliance to charge with 20,000 troops, which later defeated the Chinese rebels and plundered several Chinese cities and the adjacent countryside.
A compendium of factors sparked the uprising, more along the lines of economic, socio-political and religious reasons. So-called Christian missionaries were said to have been part of the colonization process, allowing for abuses to be widespread. At the very crux of the problem lay hunger and pillage allegedly conducted by foreign missionaries and officials.
Another was impunity. Most foreign dignitaries weren’t subject to Chinese government’s laws, thereby skirting punishment for their crimes. Unequal agreements had been signed, thereby paving the way for foreigners to enjoy privileges and rights over certain territories.
According to one account, a growing anti-imperialist movement had sprung from the poorer section of China’s countryside, and as such opened doors for resistance movements to blossom. The Yihetuan Movement was just one of many.
As a result of foreign influence and unequal secular policies and treaties, including the vacillating imperial Chinese court, the two-century rule of the Qing Dynasty, which, by and large, was rich in ancient Chinese culture, easily came under threat at the turn of the 20th century.
This particular history of ancient China was marked by treason and betrayal, hence, the Chinese boxers had no other choice but to rebel.
In Paul Cohen’s book, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth, the ruthlessness of foreign colonization was particularly exhibited by the Japanese, Russian and German troops. They were said to have razed whole towns and villages, and wantonly murdered Chinese citizens of all ages and backgrounds. The violence was such that the three countries received widespread criticism for their brutality.
In retaliation to rebel attacks against Christian missionaries and their families, the missionaries themselves were said to have led hundreds of troops to villages where they “punished” suspected members of the Boxer rebellion.
Cohen wrote about the thousands of Chinese women who committed suicide in order to escape mass rapes staged by Japanese and Russian soldiers. After the rapes, many of these women were burned to death.
I recall this particular incident in the history of China to remind everyone that Filipinos, too, have a rich revolutionary heritage. Like China, we had been colonized, raped, pillaged, murdered, and abused. In like manner as the Boxers, our heroes to the last man and woman—and child.
We treated abuse and the wanton disregard of our culture and territory with hostility and righteous indignation. Filipinos may be a patient people, more patient than any other people in the world. But make no mistake: what runs in our blood is the blood of our heroes and revolutionaries.
Filipinos did not fight to simply win or risk losing. We fought because it is in our blood to fight. We had had our share of battles: Spain, America, Japan. We fought because we must. Because we can. And because it was necessary for our survival. It may take us some time to finally decide, but such patience should not be mistaken for weakness or cowardice.
The recent visit to the Philippines of China’s President Xi Jinping has raised numerous issues as to China’s true intentions. Is the Chinese government out to colonize us through the subtle demands of a “debt trap”?
Is the Philippines going to be so neck deep in Chinese loans that we would not have any choice in the near future but to surrender not only territory but our sovereignty to China?
Are the issues surrounding Chinese intrusion along the West Philippine Sea just the beginning of our slow yet sure assimilation? Is Duterte really out to secure the country’s future or is he just another paid lackey of the Chinese government? Is he using Xi Jinping to stay in power?
More importantly, how long will our patience resist the urge to counter this clear and present danger in our midst?
If we must share one particular quality with the Chinese people, it is this: that Filipinos, too, are a brave and proud people. We will not accept foreign intrusion without resistance. Because to resist is to be in a particular relation with our revolutionary heritage. In the face of impending peril to the country’s freedom and sovereignty, we cannot choose otherwise.
Filipinos can learn a lot from the Chinese people: for one, their courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Surely, the task of battling the power and influence of eight foreign colonizers was a challenge of immense proportions.
Duterte should know by now that if the Chinese can do it, so can we. G