The Battle of Christ and Lord Guan: A Sino-European Religious Conflict in the Philippines, 1640
On January 13, 1640, a Chinese Christian convert in the village of San Mateo, across the Pasig River from Manila, went out behind his house and dug up a statue of Emperor Guan. The Augustinian missionary who baptized him had ordered it burned -- missionaries in the Philippines were known for their “valor and zeal” in destroying popular religious images1 -- but the man preferred to hedge his bets by hiding the statue in the ground instead of destroying it. The statue, once unearthed, spoke to him.
For six weeks prior to the exhumation, the Chinese and Spanish communities living in the area of Manila had been at war. The weight of numbers had been on the Chinese side, but the weight of arms, technology, and local allegiances had been on the Spanish. This uneven balance had led to a stalemate, with each side entrenched in its defensive position, the Spanish in the walled citadel of Manila, the Chinese in the villages across the Pasig River. Neither had been able to dislodge the other, but the Spanish were beginning to make gains. The Chinese side was growing desperate. The time had come to dig up the buried deity, beg his forgiveness, restore him to his dignity, and call on him to summon the forces of the spirit world to the Chinese side.
COMMUNITIES OF WORSHIP AND ACTION
Emperor Guan was the apotheosis of Guan Yu, a second-century martial hero whose story most Chinese knew through a popular novel, The Three Kingdoms, in which Guan Yu is a major character. Guan was a general, celebrated because his unwavering loyalty to his childhood friend and later ruler led to his tragic demise. Over the millennium and a half between the second century and the seventeenth, this fictional/historical character acquired a rich array of attributes and a diverse set of devotees. Buddhists revered him as a defender of their faith; his fierce statue stands at the gate of every Chinese Buddhist monastery.2 Soldiers respected him as the god who oversees the oath of loyalty binding them to their commanders, making him the god of war. Merchants, borrowing his reputation for loyalty, cast him in the role of the god of commercial wealth, benefiting those who honor their contracts and punishing those who do not. Over time the Chinese state attached its expectation of loyalty to the figure of Guan, notably in the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368). The Ming (1368-1644) fully incorporated him into the ritual corpus of the dynasty, granting him, in 1615, the supreme title of “Emperor.”
Prasenjit Duara has nicely described the simultaneous overlaying of disparate values and identities onto a single symbol as “superscribing.”3 By superscribing their versions onto the deity, many communities could claim him as the focus of their ritual practice, without any one interpretation claiming exclusive control. This freedom for identities to accumulate around a single figure meant that new constituencies could adopt the deity without threatening his authority in other fields. This plasticity meant that what Guan stood for, and whom he represented, could shift with changing religious and moral needs, without his having to be either rejected or reformed. The cult of Emperor Guan was capacious enough to accommodate all versions, not by unifying every community of worship into a single cult, but by allowing them all to settle in behind a façade of uniformity.4 Given the state’s conspicuous attempts to honor Emperor Guan, the deity’s capacity to provide a focal point for distinct communities of worship might have been severely threatened with the dismantling of the imperial ritual corpus in 1911, but it wasn’t. His signification was never so much in the hands of the state that it excluded engagement with other, more narrowly defined communities, which is why to this day the deity still has his adherents.5
The cohabitation of many identities within a single symbol of worship depended on a polytheistic religious environment, and Chinese religion in 1640 was radically polytheistic. Many deities received sacrifice and prayer, and did so from many different communities. Conversely, rarely was a person devoted to one deity to the exclusion of others; even Buddhist monks, whose lives were devoted to the worship of Buddhist deities and the perpetuation of Buddhism, prayed to Emperor Guan in his guise as their protector. Multiple veneration did not mean indiscriminate worship. People arranged the deities they favored in a hierarchy of worship or, more precisely, in a geography of worship, sacrificing most intensely and on a regular basis to those considered closest at hand: within the household, the Stove God; within the village, the God of the Earth; and within a guild or occupational group, the deity its members had chosen as their patron. They revered more distant deities on a schedule that could be seasonal rather than daily.
Although Emperor Guan was ubiquitous in Chinese religious culture and universally acknowledged as a spiritual force, the state cult endowed him with such lofty authority that many worshippers regarded him as a deity in the middle distance, who could be revered as a national figure to whom anyone had the right to pray, but less likely as a local deity, whose worship had to be maintained.6 Merchants, landless laborers, and soldiers were the notable exceptions: to them he was the closest of deities, the one to be turned to in times of trouble. This is why the deity around which Chinese in Manila in 1640, most of whom were men of commerce or men of labor, and all of whom were under military threat, could conceive of rallying themselves into a community of worship and action -- what the leading Chinese scholar of the Guan cult has aptly termed “a society of strangers” -- was Emperor Guan.7
Unlike the Chinese around Manila, the Spanish were clear that they constituted a community of worship without having to find a deity around whom to rally. Jesus and Mary were fully installed as main, and utterly complementary, choices. As it happened, in January 1640 it was Jesus rather than Mary to whom they turned. Within a day or two of Emperor Guan’s exhumation, the Spanish forces pushed the insurgents back from Manila. One of the outlying towns they overran to the east of Manila was Antipolo. The Chinese had put the Jesuit mission church to the torch before departing, so that smouldering ruins were all that remained when the Spanish arrived. A soldier scavenging through the ashes discovered the image that had stood over the altar, a statue of Christ, singed but otherwise intact. The soldier presented the statue to the Spanish governor of the Philippines, Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera. Its survival was taken as proof that the Christian God was on the Spaniards’ side and that victory would be theirs. The governor accepted the statue and the interpretation that went with it. He had it hoisted on a pole and raised as the standard of the Spanish forces as they went into battle. The Chinese insurgency against the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines was no longer just a battle between communities; it was a battle of the gods.
RELIGION AND EARLY MODERN EMPIRES
In the history of the early modern world, religion is far more visible as a signifier around which people organized for conflict than as a basis for accommodation. Whether religion actively accelerated intercultural conflict in the early modern world is not a question I wish to address in this essay. My interest, rather, is to draw attention to its visibility in the accounts that survive from the seventeenth century describing how communities rallied for action in moments of crisis by casting themselves as communities of worship, and how that might help us understand the place of religion in the historical experience of imperial expansion.
Expansion in the seventeenth century meant that Europeans were constantly having to confront crises, and almost as constantly create them. Such conflict is invariably accompanied by a closing of ranks: Europeans strengthened the boundaries between themselves and those with whom they found themselves in conflict. Given the highly unstable nature of intra-European national identities among the majority of Europeans, religious identities more consistently served to delineate and intensify loyalties. Even when European contacts with peoples elsewhere were not overtly conflictual, leaders of expatriate Europeans, sensing a need to bolster identities in the face of competing choices, made use of religion as a marker of obligatory inclusion.8 The communities they encountered, especially if they were in conflict, could be expected to rely on similar boundary markers within their own traditions, and to shun those who crossed over to the Europeans’ identity -- most visibly, those who converted to Christianity.
Many well-known sites of religious conflict mark the map of the seventeenth-century world, but none are usually associated with China. There, the familiar story is one of accommodation rather than conflict. The wisdom of accommodation arose due to conditions imposed from the Chinese side. First of all, the Ming and Qing governments (the dynasty changed in 1644) were fiercely protective of sovereignty and regarded the infiltration of foreign agents, commercial or otherwise, as a direct attack on that sovereignty. Aside from the tiny peninsula of Macao, which was granted under somewhat shady circumstances to Portuguese merchants, no piece of Chinese territory was brought under European colonial control. The only way European missionaries could extend their community of worship into China was by accommodating to conditions in China. The few missionaries who were permitted to enter the realm could not rely on the political and economic privileges that were theirs under direct colonialism -- as they could, for example, in the Philippines, where no strong central state existed to oppose colonization. They had to accommodate with other views, other cultural practices, other allegiances. At the slightest sign that their presence was a threat to local order, the Chinese government had them removed. The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci is conventionally viewed as the architect of such accommodation. He handled his mission to Beijing (1601-10) so deftly that the Kangxi emperor, facing pressure on his theological authority from Rome a century later in 1706, declared that European missionaries could remain in China so long as they comported themselves as Ricci had done.9
The religious accommodation exacted from the missionaries was possible, secondly, because of the multiconfessional religious culture of Ming China. Emperors might patronize Buddhism or Daoism according to their personal proclivities, and the state might authorize sacrifices to certain revered figures such as Emperor Guan, but there was no state religion. Nor was there only one god, jealous of all the others. No doctrinal barrier or confessional monopoly stood in the way of admitting Christian priests into the country. So long as they did not engage in what the state might regard as seditious activity, such as holding secret meetings, amassing private funds, or passing intelligence to foreign powers, they might be permitted to perform their rites and share their teachings unhindered. Papal infringements on imperial sovereignty in the eighteenth century put an end to Chinese state tolerance for Christianity.
Unlike European merchants, who were required by papal edict to give passage to Asia to missionaries, Chinese merchants trading to littoral and insular Southeast Asia were under no compulsion to take Buddhist or Daoist priests with them abroad. If they did, these professionals were there to provide for the ritual needs of their compatriots, not to spread Chinese teachings among non-Chinese. In this and many other ways, the Chinese commercial presence around the South China Sea constituted an empire of a different sort than did the European presence. An explanation for this difference might consider the difference in organizational forms between the dispersed institutional culture of Chinese religion and the politically active and centralized European church; it might look at the different forms of religious professionalization required for the more family-centered orientation of Chinese ritual performance versus the diocesan organization of professionalized Christian practice; it might also factor in different conventions of intercession and absolution. But these internal factors are less salient to the historical problem I address in this essay than the political context in which religion operated. If China in the seventeenth century was a site of religious accommodation in the history of Christianity, it was so because the Chinese state was strong enough to force European missionaries into the accommodative posture it expected of its own people.
What happens when we shift the Sino-European relationship to a location outside the boundaries of Ming China, where this condition no longer applies? Religious accommodation disappears, for the reason that Europeans entering regions of weak sovereignty chose to impose religious dominance as part of a strategy to assert political and economic dominance, and acted aggressively when there was any sign that indicated that dominance was not secure. My test case for this proposition is an outbreak of violence between Chinese and Spaniards in the winter of 1639-40 on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. This encounter took place outside the realm of Emperor Chongzhen (r. 1628-44), but within the elastic reach of the colonial empire of Philip IV (r. 1621-65). The violence was not prompted by religious conflict, but religious commitments came into play on both sides as the economic and political costs of the conflict rose. My approach to this incident is to see the role of religion in intercultural conflict from both sides.
Spain began drawing the Philippines into its imperial orbit in the 1560s by competing effectively against the Moro (Muslim) princes who had established themselves in strategic trading locations a few decades before the Spanish arrived. Spaniards took over the port of Manila in 1571, making it their main trading base in Asia and the door through which the lucrative exchange of silver for Chinese commodities passed between the Spanish merchants of Acapulco and the Chinese merchants of Fujian province. When the first Spaniards arrived in Manila, they found several hundred Chinese already living there. This port was one of many points on the outer edge of a circuit of trade that extended from Zhangzhou on China’s southeast coast and radiated outward around the South China Sea and into Southeast Asia.10
If one were to speak of this network of trade as an “empire,” it would be a purely commercial empire, armed only to the extent necessary to beat off pirate attacks at sea. The Ming state was not involved. It policed its borders, collected posted duties on imports, and campaigned intermittently against smugglers, but otherwise left merchants to fend for themselves. The Spanish presence in Manila, on the other hand, betokened an empire that was commercial in function, monarchical in form, and religious in self-conception. Commercial demand, political authority, and religious intolerance on the Spanish side conspired in the winter of 1639 to bring the two sides into deadly conflict. The conflict was not generated by “religious” difference, yet religion-hardened community identities shaped the very possibility of conflict.
PRESSURES FOR CONFLICT
The conflict started small. On November 19, 1639, as night settled on the village of Calamba southeast of Manila, several hundred Chinese farmers burst into the house of Luis Arias de Mora. The farmers had gone to Calamba to carve rice paddies out of the wilderness for the Spanish, and Mora was the cold face of Spanish colonial rule. He regarded his position as administrator as a right to bleed the five thousand Chinese of everything he could take. A summer of drought followed by unseasonable cold in the fall decimated the harvest, and an epidemic then took the lives of some three hundred. Mora was aware of the local desperation but continued to overtax. Sound asleep when the mob arrived, he had no chance of escape. The insurgents dragged him outside, denounced him, and put him to death. That act completed, they burned their village, sent their families into the hills, then headed by foot in the direction of Manila to petition Governor Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera to forgive their righteous anger and aid them in their distress.
As alcalde mayor of Calamba and a member of the Audiencia, the judicial council in Manila, Mora was the region’s governor, commander, and judge in one. In all three roles he had conducted his rule harshly, gaining an evil reputation not just among the Chinese who farmed the land but among Spaniards as well. The Spanish priest who authored the “Relation of the Insurrection of the Chinese,” the document on which this reconstruction is based, acknowledged that Mora “oppressed” the people “with continual extortions and punishment.”11 Mora’s oppression was linked to a larger problem, and that was food. In 1639, Manila was home to as many as six thousand “Spanish,” a category that included Portuguese, Flemings, Venetians, Italians, Greeks, French, and anyone else who had come on Spanish ships as sailors, workmen, carpenters, and gunners and who wasn’t Asian or Black. Their number was in turn overshadowed by at least four times that number of Chinese. Neither group had been there in such numbers when the first Spaniards arrived in Manila seven decades earlier. Then it had been a small trading port with a population in the hundreds, a number that could eat from the small surplus that the local Tagals grew in gardens in the hinterland. As the port blossomed into the main entrepôt for trade between East Asia and Europe, however, the mouths grew to thirty thousand. Some rice was brought down from Panay and Pampanga in the Luzon interior, but most had to be imported from China. Demand could not guarantee a steady supply, since rice in Chinese junks competed for cargo space with higher-value porcelains and textiles. A local solution had to be found.
The need for food attracted land-starved farmers from the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, but they grew vegetables and raised chickens rather than investing the time and labor needed to build rice paddies. Only slowly did local rice production develop. The Spanish did not have the patience to wait. Their first impulse was to follow South American precedent and herd the Tagals into concentrated villages, or “reductions,” where their social and religious lives could be monitored, their labor controlled, and their agricultural output seized.12 Local resistance to this regimen prevented the reduction scheme from making much headway in the Philippines. Unlike the Chinese who crossed over from Fujian, populated beyond its ecological limit, the indigenous Tagals did not feel the hot breath of Malthusian catastrophe on their necks. The alternative to the reductions were rice colonies worked not by Tagals but by Chinese, and not through coercion but by contract and recruitment. Between them, the Chinese and Spanish constructed the new agricultural economy of the colony over the heads of the indigenous population and their economy.
Instead of trying to turn indolent indigenes into productive field laborers, the governor of the Philippines, Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera, recruited some five thousand Chinese to open agricultural land, some of them in Calamba under the greedy eyes of Luis Arias de Mora. Being “royal service,” this work exempted Chinese from the taxes they would normally have to pay. What the governor did not anticipate was that Mora would use this tax concession as an opportunity to levy his own charges on the cultivators and punish anyone who challenged his right to do so. To make matters worse, many of the transplanted farmers found themselves without adequate shelter and supplies when they arrived. When an epidemic swept through Calamba (presumably an infection brought by the Spaniards), killing over three hundred, the farmers punished Mora and marched on Manila.
News of the insurrection reached the capital the next day. That evening the Spanish fired the cannon on the city’s walls to warn everyone to take refuge in the city before the gates were barred. The city was for Spaniards and their servants only. Chinese had to live outside the walls in a palisaded ghetto known as the Parián. This was one of many controls the Spanish put in place over a population they did not trust. The Parián dated to 1581, when a governor who regarded the Chinese as “a mean, impudent people, as well as very importunate,” because of their refusal to cooperate in his plans to dispatch missionaries to China, wanted them placed under confinement.13 Being built of wood, the Parián burned frequently and just as regularly had to be rebuilt, at Chinese expense. The town that stood there in 1639 dated only from 1628, when a fire reduced it to ashes in a matter of hours. One report on the fire, probably by a Dominican priest, expressed surprise that the grander Chinese buildings, which had pillars so large that two men could not join hands when standing on either side, burned so easily. For this hostile missionary, their flammability had a bright side, for it proved that “the fire was the punishment of Heaven for the so horrible sins by which those heathen Chinese provoked the wrath of God,” especially as the Church of the Three Kings, from which the Dominicans attempted to convert the Chinese, “escaped from the midst of this fire of Sodom.” The devastation was brief, for the priest reported that most of the Parián “was rebuilt in squares with straight streets and uniform houses” within four months.14 Not all visitors were so hostile. A Spanish visitor to the Chinese ghetto observed in 1637 that “it is a very curious place to see because of the fine order in which they live.”15 Fine order was apparently not something he expected to find.
When word of the insurrection reached him, Governor Corcuera ordered Martín de Acuña, Manila’s popular military commander, to get his cavalry on their horses and drive back the insurgents. Acuña rode south that night with thirty Spanish soldiers and a Jesuit priest, Villamayor. The following morning he launched an ill-considered attack on some four thousand insurgents, during which he was killed. After defeating Acuña, the insurgents headed in the direction of Manila, drawing to their ranks growing numbers of Chinese from other agricultural colonies. The next town in their path was San Pedro. Its Jesuit church and novitiate made it an attractive symbolic target. One Spanish Jesuit and two lay brothers at San Pedro had been evangelizing among the Tagals here, with some success. As word of the insurrection reached them, the locals rushed to the church for protection. As the missionary gave them confession, the brothers prepared a defense.
THE CHRISTIAN MISSION IN THE PHILIPPINES
Christianizing the Philippines was an early and high priority when the Spanish first established themselves there, both for its own sake as well as for creating a base from which to launch a greater missionary assault on China, the vast spiritual prize that lay temptingly to the northwest. The widespread enthusiasm for the project of mission was a useful arguing point for those who hoped to double it with the project of empire and persuade the Spanish crown to conquer China. In a letter that one penurious Philippine Spaniard wrote to Philip II even before Salcedo had found Manila, a raise in his salary was justified by the probable outcome of paying him well: “All of us your Majesty’s servants and vassals are quite sure that, in your time, China will be a subject of your Majesty, and that in these parts, the religion of Christ will be spread and exalted, and your majesty’s royal crown increased, and all this in a very short time.”16 How, he implied, could the king refuse him when so much lay in the balance to be won? The prospect of converting the Chinese was a constant obsession, and a good excuse for pleading for money.
Augustinians, Franciscans, and Dominicans, plus a smaller number of Jesuits, came to the Philippines to do the work of conversion. By an agreement made in 1594, the Dominicans were assigned the task of evangelizing among the Chinese, as this was seen as a way to prepare them for working in China. The Church of the Holy Kings in the Parián was the core of the Dominican mission to the Chinese. A note dated 1628 in the church baptismal register indicates that Dominican priests there had baptized 1,331 Chinese. This was not a large number given the size of the population, and many were converts of convenience. The register also shows a more prominent beginning: the Dominicans were starting to baptize the small first generation of mixed Chinese-Filipino children.17
With lucrative interests and powerful friends, the three larger religious orders wielded great influence in Philippine politics and life, as each governor in his turn would discover when he tried to maneuver around them. Governor Corcuera, who had more trouble than most, turned to the Jesuits in his intense political battles with Church authorities (Villamayor may have been sent with Acuña to be his eyes and ears). His fights with Archbishop Guerrero were legendary, the one exiling the other, the other excommunicating him in return several times during the 1630s.18 “It seems that Your Majesty has sent me here,” Corcuera complained to his king in 1636 after another round in this battle, “not to govern the Philippines but to conquer the religious, because in the eleven months I have been here I have done nothing but argue with them over jurisdiction and the royal patronage.” What placed Corcuera at odds with the Church was his publicly announced goal to balance the budget and end the drain that the upkeep of the Spanish presence in the Philippines put on the royal treasury. The Church argued back that Corcuera was intent only on enriching himself at their expense. The struggle proved exhausting and Corcuera asked to retire. Before he could, the Chinese rose in Calamba.
The insurgency did not drive a wedge between the indigenous population and the Spaniards. For native converts who had entered the Spaniards’ community of worship, in fact, it only widened the gap between them and the Chinese. Doubtful of their safety, the Tagal converts living at San Pedro sought the church’s protection, but they had only tiles and bricks to repel their far more numerous attackers. After besieging the building for twenty-four hours, the insurgents battered down the doors, driving the inmates to the upper floor of the Jesuit house. When the house caught fire, the missionary decided to negotiate a surrender on the condition that lives be spared. The European, the two lay brothers, and fifteen Tagals gave themselves up on the promise of good treatment. The rest were unwilling to trust any promise from the Chinese, however, and sought sanctuary on the church roof. The fire cut off any chance of escape, but it also prevented the insurgents from getting at them. Theirs proved the wiser course: the missionary and the lay brothers were held as hostages, but the fifteen Tagals were killed.
The siege of San Pedro gave Juan de Arceo the time he needed to bring into action a Spanish force of eighty cavalry and two hundred infantry, a native army of a hundred Pampangos. and four hundred Tagals, all bearing arquebuses, plus two mobile cannon. As soon as the forward section of this force reached San Pedro on November 22, they skirmished with the insurgents, inflicting losses without taking any casualties. But they were not ready to launch a full-scale attack and chose to wait for reinforcements. In that lull a third party entered the scene: the Chinese of the Parián. While Governor Corcuera was mobilizing his forces, they dispatched a delegation to mediate between the two sides and bring what could only spell ruin for their commercial fortunes to an end. The Spanish agreed to suspend their attack while the Parián delegates talked to the insurgents. They managed to convince the latter to agree to a truce and hand over their Jesuit hostage as a sign that they were acting in good faith (though not the two lay brothers -- they would later escape in the fighting). What could have turned into a full-scale war looked to have been averted.
ESCALATION OF THE CONFLICT
The plan failed. An adjutant named Benavides, one of Arceo’s subordinates, was leading a separate troop of twenty-five Spaniards toward San Pedro by river. According to Spanish hindsight (though how can this be proved now, especially knowing that Corcuera was under suspicion for betraying a truce in Mindanao a year earlier?) Benavides had no knowledge that a settlement was being negotiated. When he reached San Pedro and found all quiet, he assumed that he was catching the insurgents by surprise, and launched a vicious attack that sent them fleeing. Rather than disentangle the mess that Benavides’ assault had caused, the rest of the Spanish force joined the fight. The Chinese were caught completely off guard. Suddenly the war that was off was on again. In the ensuing melee, three hundred Chinese were killed and many hundreds captured and taken to Cavite, where their punishment would be forced service in the hated coastal galleys. This unexpected betrayal obliged the Chinese to retreat back toward Calamba in order to regroup, but they could not organize themselves against the onslaught of the columns of Spaniards, Tagals, and Pampango warriors. Three-quarters of the insurgents were slaughtered there, and many who fled back into the hills or slipped into nearby ravines were hunted down by native fighters under the direction of Augustinian friars.
No sooner had the Chinese in Calamba been suppressed than word of the uprising spread among the Chinese working on a colonial estate in Sagar. They rose up, burned the colony, and launched an assault on Manila from the north, gathering more farmers on the way. They captured Meyhaligue across the Pasig River from Manila on Tuesday, November 29, just as Arceo’s troops were returning from Calamba. Before the soldiers could enter the city gates, Corcuera dispatched them to the town of Santa Cruz, which stood between Meyhaligue and the river, with orders to block the onslaught and see that the large Chinese community in Santa Cruz did not join the insurgents. Despite residence restrictions, the Chinese population had long outgrown the Parián and since the 1590s had been living here and in the two towns of Tondo and Binondo further down the north bank of the Pasig River, where Augustinians operated another agricultural estate employing Chinese farmers.
To show the Santa Cruz Chinese that he was confident of success, Corcuera appeared in their midst. He made a tactical error when he gave permission to several hundred, who approached him and asked permission to fight the insurgents, only to defect immediately to the other side. They launched an assault that almost won them Corcuera. That night the Spanish abandoned Santa Cruz under cover of darkness, dismantled the bridge that joined the town to the Parián and destroyed the boats along the river before retreating inside the walls of Manila. Except for two fortified churches, the entire north bank of the Pasig was in Chinese hands. A particular grievance against a corrupt local administrator had turned into a colony-wide insurgency.
The question is not just why did this happen, but why at this time. There was the general resentment of the Chinese against the Spaniards’ high-handed treatment going all the way back to 1604, when a hysterical European populace, egged on by Archbishop Miguel de Benavides, massacred as many as twenty thousand Chinese. But even this resentment does not explain why this uprising happened when it did. For the timing, we have to look at what the colony lived and died with: the Manila galleon that sailed annually from Acapulco laden with silver. What made Manila the largest trade entrepôt in East Asia was the seemingly inexhaustible supply of silver from the silver mountain of Potosí that paid for seemingly endless supplies of Chinese wares. That trade went into steady decline in the 1630s, hitting a new low in 1639 and driving global trade into depression in 1640.19 Part of the responsibility lay with the viceroy of New Spain, whose decision to crack down on corruption in Acapulco reduced the flow of silver to Manila over the next decade by a quarter, or in absolute terms, by close to ten thousand kilograms. More serious, though, was the declining productivity of the silver deposits at Potosí. The accessible ore had been taken out by 1630, which meant that costs of extraction and refinement rose. The decline in production appears in the declining value of silver declared for taxation in the Lima treasury: 25,482 pesos worth of bar silver declared between June 1636 to June 1637, compared with 8,065 for the fiscal year 1637-38, and merely 2,777 for 1638-39.20 By 1639, the municipal councillors of Potosí were sufficiently distressed to send a representative to Madrid to plead for tax concessions to stimulate trade.21
The contraction in the silver supply was more than enough to upset a trading economy as finely balanced as Manila’s, where exchange flourished only so long as the debts of one trading season could be covered by the payments in the next. The Ming government made the situation more difficult by lifting its on-again, off-again ban on foreign trade, which it had reimposed in 1628.22 The Chinese response was immediate: thirty Chinese ships, an unprecedented number, arrived in Manila that year, compared with the sixteen that came in 1638.23 The Chinese merchants had a flood of goods to sell and a mountain of bills to pay, and the Spanish had nothing to pay them with and nothing therefore to sell on to Acapulco. The strain on both sides was intolerable. When the farmers in Calamba and Sagar rose up against the Spanish, they were doing so at a time when both sides of the Manila trading nexus were facing bankruptcy and desperately suspicious of the other side’s actions and motives. The traders feared there lay open to them no other choice than to join the insurrection, and the Spaniards, no other course but massacre.
The massacre began late in the morning of December 2. According to the sole surviving Spanish source, the Chinese in the Parián started it by killing the handful of Spanish guards at the Church of the Three Kings and making a dash to Santa Cruz over a bridge they had secretly rebuilt the night before. Arceo led a troop of infantry out of the east gate of Manila to drive them back while Lorenzo de Olaso, Corcuera’s master-of-camp, tried to block the way to the bridge. Rather than allow themselves to get bottlenecked at the Parián gate, the Chinese began to tear down the wall along the riverfront so that they might link up with their compatriots across the river. Shells rained down on them from the ramparts of Manila, and fire broke out. As the Parián began to burn, a cry went up inside Manila to kill all the Chinese within their own stone walls. The governor himself gave the order. Soon the streets of Manila were littered with Chinese corpses, to which were added surrendered prisoners who were brought within the city walls and executed: a conservative estimate at the time put the casualties in and around Manila and the Parián that day at three thousand. Corcuera that day ordered the port warden to sequester the 1,400 Chinese there inside a church, from which they were then taken in groups of ten to be executed. Armed with nothing but the ivory crucifixes torn from the walls, only twenty-three escaped alive.24 Three days later Corcuera relayed the same order to his regional administrators, advising them to act immediately lest word of the extermination leak from one district to the next. Between December 5 and 7, at least 3,000 Chinese farmers were put to death. Not even converts were excepted.
Back in Manila, the Spanish and the Chinese in Manila eyed each other across the Pasig River, neither confident enough to move against the other. The stalemate lasted three weeks, and then the Spanish launched their counterattack. After a few days of fierce fighting, the Chinese abandoned Santa Cruz, slipping off undetected during the night of Thursday, December 29. Thereafter the story becomes a series of bold attacks and desperate retreats, of firearms captured and provisions abandoned, of discipline and disorder, of escapes and massacres, stretching out over almost two months.
The military situation began to turn against the Chinese in the second week of January, which is when the convert in San Mateo exhumed the statue of Emperor Guan. According to what Spanish interrogators later learned, the statue spoke. “I consider myself appeased and satisfied for the previous injury done to me,” Emperor Guan declared. “And I promise, besides this, my favor, provided that you burn all the churches, profane all that is sacred, and inflict on the Christians all the harm you possibly can.”25 His assistance was contingent on the annihilation of the Spaniards’ religion. Aside from the unlikelihood that the statue said anything at all, Guan’s bargain sounds more like what a jealous Old Testament God would impose on his fickle followers, and is probably the Spanish priest-chronicler’s interpolation. Whatever Guan did or did not promise to his community of worship, his exhumation failed to stem the changing tide. Within a few days the Spaniards retrieved the blackened Christ from the ruins in Antipolo and carried it into the battle. A conflict over economic distress, at least as it is narrated in the Spanish “Relation,” had morphed into a battle of the gods.
BETWEEN HENOTHEISM AND POLYTHEISM
The Spaniards knew the trope of contests between gods from tales of Roman battles; it was also deeply embedded in their evangelical culture. Priests understood the transactional nature of devotion, accustomed as they had become to construing every victory on their own side as a victory for Christ. As did the Chinese. Officials in Beijing were not in the least surprised, for instance, when the Jesuit missionary Adam Schall von Bell (1592-1666), who just at this time was casting cannon in the capital for the Ministry of War, knelt before a statue of Christ before starting up the forge.26 One did not need to be a Christian to regard a well-cast cannon as evidence of the power of the caster’s god. So, too, the combatants outside Manila would have understood the invocation of the Christ of Antipolo on one side and Emperor Guan of San Mateo on the other.
Despite the common awareness that the gods could be called upon to intervene at extraordinary moments in daily life, the two sides understood the efficacy of deities in somewhat different ways. Consider first the European perspective. Centuries of Protestantism and Counter-Reformationism have habituated us to think of Christianity as monotheistic. Seventeenth-century Europeans acted in a way that suggests to me they were closer to the Hebrew tradition of henotheism that runs through the Old Testament. Henotheism is faith in one god above all others, the belief that among the gods one’s own is the most powerful. The biblical commandment does not declare that there are no other gods, only that those who follow Jehovah are not permitted to take any other gods before him. The existence of the Jehovah of the Old Testament did not therefore automatically negate the existence of other gods; his power was simply greater than others’. And given the miserable conditions in which those who followed him often found themselves, time and again he was obliged to show proof that he was more powerful than the gods of the Israelites’ competitors.
The Chinese insurgents would have understood this competition for power. Gods are not equipotent, being as subject to growth and decay as everything else in the natural world, acquiring and losing power on the basis of the sacrifices made to them, competing with each other, intervening or refusing to intervene in human affairs. This is why the convert who buried the Guan statue would have been loathe to follow his priest’s command to burn it. Whereas the Augustinian could not tolerate the worship of Guan alongside the worship of Christ, the convert saw the relationship between Christ and Guan in a different way. If he took up the worship of Christ, it was because he had decided that Christ could better deliver the protection and assistance he expected a god to provide than Guan. Doing so did not deny the existence of Emperor Guan nor exclude the possibility that Guan might become efficacious once again. The convert was simply transferring loyalties on a provisional basis. Both were gods, both deserved reverence to the degree that they could respond to the prayers of the faithful, and both were subject to regular re-evaluation on the basis of the efficacy of their responses. The rational course was to keep the Guan statue in reserve, just in case the Spanish god did not live up to its promises.
Beneath this difference lies the doctrinal difference separating European and Chinese religion: their refusal and willingness, respectively, to accept religious plurality. Seventeenth-century Christians may have accepted that other gods existed, yet relativity of theistic power was anathema to the system by which they organized their beliefs. In China, however, people adopted a different way of looking at multiplicity. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism -- and even Christianity -- might compete in some quarters and at some times, but they constituted a condominium of teachings that were religions to the extent that they were recognized as paths to goodness. The teachings of one might contradict those of another, but they need not signal incommensurability; more commonly, in fact, they could be expected to enhance the truths the others taught.27 There were occasional calls to expel the Jesuits from China, but never on the grounds that the god the Christians worshipped did not exist or that their own gods could not tolerate one more. When officials attempted to restrict the power of a religion, and from time to time there were calls against Buddhism as well, they were not monotheistically rejecting a false god; but nor, more to the point, were they making a henotheistic move against a competitor. They were polytheistic: all gods might be served so long as that did not interfere with the good order of society or the duty of loyally serving the state.
According to this logic, faith was not conceived as a means for fortifying economic competition and securing colonial domination. Nor were its institutions recruited to serve as armed citadels of colonial power or economic penetration. This is not purely a cultural issue, for the Chinese who were in the Philippines were not there as agents of their monarch; nor were they in service to corporations enjoying royal patronage or investment; nor did they see themselves as advancing a mission that gave priests and soldiers shared dominion over the territories the soldiers conquered. They experienced a different relationship to political power, which in turn was linked to their state’s very different relationship to overseas economic resources. The Chinese who traded at Manila were orphans in the family of their state, not favorite sons celebrated for carving out vast territories for the greater glory of their sovereign, their god, and themselves. They were never in a position to regard the Philippines as a space they could occupy as agents of a political empire. They did not command the military means to use violence to secure their profits and positions; they did not arrogate to themselves the right to collect taxes on behalf of themselves or their monarch; and they did not seek to install a political order that would force the compliance of others. They were just merchants taking advantage of domestic supply, offshore demand, and a porous maritime border to get rich. Their gods could not but reflect the political economy in which they operated.
The state they left at home saw no reason that matters should be otherwise arranged. When Chinese complained to Chinese officials after the massacre in 1604, the governor of Fujian province wrote to his counterpart in Manila saying that the emperor demanded that justice be done for “this great evil,” yet also that the emperor “did not consider these people of any value,” that they were “a base people, ungrateful to China, their native country, to their parents, and to their relatives, since so many years had passed during which they had not returned to China.” No European monarch would have understood his relationship to subjects trading overseas in this way: as renegades who had vacated their moral responsibilities, rather than active subjects whose deaths constituted an affront to his personal dignity. The emperor did, however, demand that “the Castilians show justice to the Chinese, send back those who have survived the war, and pay the money due for the goods taken from them.” Failing that, the emperor would put an end to the trade and treat the incident as a causus belli.28 In the end, nothing was done. No Spanish monarch would have let the matter drop, whereas no Chinese monarch would have regarded the issue worth the trouble. No Chinese record of any response, official or otherwise, to the massacre of 1639 has survived.
Corcuera realized that pursuing the insurgents would only drive them further from Manila and thereby destroy the fragile colonial structures that their labor and trade sustained. After a failed ultimatum, Corcuera sent a Jesuit priest, who had worked among the Chinese and spoke their language, and General Gerónimo Enríquez, the Spanish governor of the Parián and someone the Chinese regarded as trustworthy, to negotiate an end to hostilities. The Chinese negotiators were in no mood to negotiate with men whose governor had gone on record ordering that every Chinese in Luzon be killed, but they knew their fight was over and agreed to a truce. On February 24, close to eight thousand Chinese came forward and laid their weapons before the Spanish army. The defeated Chinese were marched back to Manila together and paraded beneath its walls on the morning of March 16.
The victory march affirmed the precedence of aborigines over Chinese, and Spanish over all. At the head of parade came the elite Spanish force, the cavalry who prevailed in the first skirmishes. The indigenous forces followed next: the Pampangos (led by a Spanish friar), the Cagayans, the Zambal archers (led by a Recollet brother), and the Tagals. These were Spain’s aboriginal allies, marshalled to imperial service by Spanish religious professionals, and without whom the Spanish would not have had the manpower to defeat the insurgents. In their wake walked the defeated Chinese. Behind them marched the Spanish infantry under Olaso. In the commanding position at the end of the column came Governor Corcuera, who never missed an opportunity to display his importance, surrounded by his halberdiers and retainers. Above him, strapped to a pole and held aloft, came the winning god, the singed Christ of Antipolo.
THE VIRGIN OF ANTIPOLO
The struggle between Corcuera and the Church could have ended in stalemate, but the battle between Christ and Guan did not. Military technology was on Christ’s side from the beginning: arquebusses against kitchen knives. The big difference, though, was the global context pitting the gods’ adherents against each other. Christ was a god of war, a god of state, and a god of empire, because that is what Spanish power represented in this part of the world. Emperor Guan was a god of war too, but only in name. The Ming court honoured him with formal titles without organizing its legitimacy around his worship; nor, more to the point, did it ever look on the commercial activities of Chinese in Southeast Asia as any sort of colonial expansion that might give the state new wealth and power. Emperor Guan did not have the capacity to call forth armies from home and send them against enemies abroad when those enemies threatened his people. His exhumation was not a call on the Chinese state to back the insurgents’ cause; it was a last grab at a desperate hope for protection in this hostile foreign land. Strapping Christ to a pole was the Spanish state’s response to what it conceived as a threat to the honour of the empire. Brushing the dirt off Guan could be nothing larger than a local gesture.
There is a new church in Antipolo today. The statue it houses is remembered for having saved Christians from Chinese mobs. If you visit the cathedral (which you can do virtually on the Antipolo website), however, you will quickly notice that the statue is not the same as the statue described in the “Relation of the Insurrection.” This statue is of Mary, not Jesus. Filipino Christians know her as Our Lady of Antipolo, and she sits at the centre of a web of stories celebrating the survival of Spanish rule against Chinese assault, as well as the entire history of the galleon trade. The official story says that the Virgin statue was carved by a native Mexican sculptor and brought by a governor to Manila in 1626. During the crossing, a storm almost destroyed the galleon on which the governor and the Virgin sailed. A fire broke out, yet the ship was not destroyed but managed to limp its way into Manila harbour. The governor could only view this statue as his personal protector, and venerated it accordingly. When the governor died six years later, he bequeathed the statue to the Jesuits. They wanted to place her in their church in Santa Cruz, but portents indicated that she wished to be housed in the new church in the Tagal community of Antipolo. The Virgin got her way. She was installed there after the church was finished in 1633. After 1640, with the church destroyed, Corcuera moved the statue to Cavite to protect the galleon trade. There it remained for a quarter of a century, during which time it was put on five Manila galleons as their transoceanic protector. After many years of service on the run to Acapulco, the statue was eventually returned to Antipolo, where it can be seen alongside another statue of the Virgin brought from Mexico on the same passage in 1626. Both continue to anchor a powerful Tagal cult of the Virgin and are paraded annually toward the end of the lunar year to bless those who believe, in their powers.
So which is it, Corcuera’s Christ, or the Virgin of Antipolo? Are they one and the same? If so, how did the one became the other? Or were they never the same thing at all? Had the Christ statue been lost, encouraging public memory to substitute the one for the other? We are unlikely ever to find an answer; and even if we did, it would be a matter of indifference to the community -- Filipino now rather than Spanish, and diasporic rather than just Manilan -- that now worships her.29 As for the god who was defeated, there is no record of what happened to the statue of Emperor Guan. The Spaniards would have burned Lord Guan in triumph, had he ended up in their hands. But the Chinese would have done the same: fit punishment for a god who failed to deliver the aid they brought him back to provide.
Juan Francisco de San Antonio, The Philippine Chronicles of Fray San Antonio, trans. D. Pedro Picornell (Manila, 1977), 150.
On the place of Guan worship within Buddhism, see Timothy Brook, Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China (Cambridge, 1993), 279, 288.
Prasenjit Duara, “Superscribing Symbols: The Myth of Guandi, Chinese God of War,” Journal of Asian Studies 47.4 (Nov. 1988): 778-95. Huang Huajie, Guan gong de renge yu shenge [The human and divine characteristics of Lord Guan] (Taibei, 1968), 227-29, quoted in Duara, “Superscribing Symbols,” 782.
Michael Szonyi, “The Illusion of Standardizing the Gods: The Cult of the Five Emperors in Late Imperial China,” Journal of Asian Studies 56.1 (Feb. 1997): 113-35.
On the capacity of popular deities to evade subsumption by the state, see Richard von Glahn, “The Sociology of Local Religion in the Lake Tai Basin,” in Religion and Chinese Society, ed. John Lagerwey (Hong Kong, 2004), II: 804: “While rites of penance, processions of the gods, and presentation of sacrificial offerings were heavily indebted to the repertoire of imperial ritual, the gods -- the real masters of life and death -- were at once far more powerful than the imperial state, and also more intimately engaged in the lives of their subjects. Moreover, in contrast to the well-defined hierarchical order of the unitary state, the realm of divine power featured multiple and shifting sovereignties.”
Duara, “Superscribing Symbols,” 786.
Huang Huajie, Guan gong de renge yu shenge, 227, noted from a reference in Duara, “Superscribing Symbols,” 782. Evidence of religious practice among the Chinese who went out to the Philippines is lacking. A diarist from Zhejiang province writing in 1613 notes that the men who sailed the ships from Fujian to Manila worshipped the Three Teachers (sanshi) on board their ships, but I have been unable to identify this triad; see Li Rihua, Weishui xuan riji [Diary from the Water Tasting Studio] (rprt. Shanghai, 1996), 311.
On the fluidity of identities among expatriate Europeans in this period, see Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (New York, 2008), 199-209. The insurgency in Manila is treated from a different perspective in chapter 6 of that book.
Paul Rule, K’ung-tzu or Confucius? The Jesuit Interpretation of Confucianism (Sydney, 1986), 142.
The early history of the Chinese in the Philippines is covered in Ch’en Ching-ho, The Chinese Community in the Sixteenth Century Philippines (Tokyo, 1968).
“Relation of the Insurrection of the Chinese,” translated in The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803, ed. E. H. Blair and J. A. Robertson (Cleveland, 1905), XXIX: 208-58. The chronicler’s knowledge of Chinese matters suggests he was a Dominican, or possibly a Jesuit.
On reductions, see John Phelan, The Hispanization of the Philippines: Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses, 1565 -1700 (Madison, 1959), 44.
Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, IV: 67. Spanish attitudes toward Chinese, and their derivation from anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic discourses, are examined in Margaret Horsley, “Sangley: The Formation of Anti-Chinese Feeling in the Philippines: A Cultural Study of the Stereotypes of Prejudice” (Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, 1950).
Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, XXII: 211-12.
Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, XXIX: 69.
Cited in Horsley, “Sangley,” 104.
Jesus Merino, “General Considerations Regarding the Chinese Mestizo,” in The Chinese in the Philippines, ed. Alfonso Felix, 2 vols. (Manila and New York, 1966-69) II: 54-56.
Nicholas Cushner, Spain in the Philippines: From Conquest to Revolution (Quezon City, 1971), 162-65.
For an analysis of the world monetary crisis of 1640 in relation to the overproduction of silver, see Andre Gunder Frank, Reorient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley, 1998), 237-48; for a critical response to Frank’s claims, see Jan de Vries, “Connecting Europe and Asia: A Quantitative Analysis of the Cape-route Trade, 1497-1795,” in Global Connections and Monetary History, 1470-1800, ed. Dennis Flynn, Arturo Giráldez, and Richard von Glahn (Aldershot, 2003), 35-106.
Engel Sluiter, The Gold and Silver of Spanish America, c. 1572-1648 (Berkeley, 1998), Table B-1. The table suggests that this was a temporary decline, not a secular trend, but the recovery in the early 1640s lasted only six or seven years.
Jeffrey Cole, The Potosí Mita, 1573 -1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes (Stanford, 1985), 52-53. For other studies of Potosí, see Peter Bakewell, Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor in Potosí, 1545-1650 (Albuquerque, 1984); idem, Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century PotoíI: The Life and Times of Antonio López de Quiroga (Albuquerque, 1988), esp. 16-23; Enrique Tandeter, L’argent du Potosi: coercion et marché dans l’Amérique coloniale (Paris, 1997).
Huang Bolu, Zhengjiao fengbao, excerpted in Ming-Qing shiqi Aomen wenti dang’an wenxian huibian [Archives and documents of the Ming-Qing period concerning the question of Macao], ed. Yang Jibo, Wu Zhiliang, and Deng Kaisong, 6 vols. (Beijing, 1999), V: 110.
Souza, The Survival of Empire, 84, table 4.8.
“Relation of the Insurrection,” 226-27.
“Relation of the Insurrection,” 237-38.
Huang Bolu, Zhengjiao fengbao, as extracted in Ming-Qing shiqi Aomen wenti, V: 110-11.
On the condominium of religions, see Timothy Brook, “Rethinking Syncretism: The Unity of the Three Teachings and their Joint Worship in Late-Imperial China,” Journal of Chinese Religion 21 (Fall, 1993): 13-44.
Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, XIII: 289.
A copy of our Lady of Antipolo was installed in April 2002 at Holyrood Cemetery, outside Seattle, to preside over the Filipinos who are buried there.