Manila’s Chinatown in the Binondo district is home to many Filipino-Chinese in the country today. Located north of the Pasig River, it is Manila’s premiere commercial and financial center. However, the Chinatown we know at present can be traced back to the Parian of the 16th to 19th centuries. It played an important role not only to Manilenos and the Chinese but also to our nation’s history as well.
The Term ‘Parian’. The name ‘parian’ or ‘padian’ was derived from old Malay word ‘puntahan’, ‘pariyan’ or ‘padiyan’. In the early times, the term also meant as ‘liwasan’ (plaza/ town square), a flat vacant land at the center of a town usually situated near a river or sea. It is a trading area that later evolved into a ‘tianggi’(market) with several stalls similar to the present-day marketplace or shopping mall were various goods and services are being offered to the public. Later on, the term was also used to refer to an exclusive enclave where the Chinese were segregated from the rest of the populace.
Parian’s Early Beginnings. Before the arrival of the Spaniards in Manila, the Sangleys or the Chinese traders, as the Spaniards called them, lived anywhere in the city. Here the Chinese traded silk, porcelain, spices, furniture and jewelry in exchange for goods produced by the natives. Such known trading area was chronicled in 1571 as the parian de aroceros which was famous for selling rice grains. Later on, other goods such as silk were traded in the area.
The Spaniards later on saw its economic importance and thus encourage and tolerated the Chinese traders. As trade grew, the Chinese population eventually outnumbered the Spanish residents.
However in 1581, due to the fear of another Chinese uprising similar to that of Limahong’s 1574 revolt, the Spanish colonial government promulgated the policy of isolation to the Chinese. Because of this decree, Gov. Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa ordered them to live on a marshy ground at the south bank of the Pasig River just outside Intramuros (Aroceros Forest Park, now site of the Unibersidad de Manila). Thus, this district where non-Christian Chinese residents and merchants were confined came to be known as the Parian.
The area became a bustling Chinese trading hub and the ‘nerve-center’ of business life in Manila. It also became the backbone of the galleon trade with Acapulco for almost 200 years. Aside from selling goods, many Chinese craftsmen provide their skilled services as shipbuilders, carpenters, sculptors, weavers, and many others. By daylight, the gates of Intramuros known as the Puerta del Parian were opened and the Spaniards and Filipinos did their shopping at the Parian were products from China were on sale. The Parian moved from time to time and persisted until the late 19oth century.
Parian Through the Centuries. On March 19, 1583, a devastating fire burned the Parian to the ground. Because of this, Gov. Diego Ronquillo gave the Chinese a tract of land a little farther from its original site (present-day Liwasang Bonifacio). It was much bigger than the first one with four buildings and a few houses made of nipa and pawid. However, the area was again destroyed by a fire. Later on, Gov. Santiago de Vera built bigger and stronger buildings made of adobe and cement. The new Parian was beautiful than the previous ones. It has an astanque or pond built from its former marshy grounds. Esteros (channels) were also built in order to link the area to the bay where ships from China can unload and trade their products. In the middle of the pond was an island where the Chinese convicted of crimes were punished. A Chinese local official known as gobernadorcillo de chino oversees the Parian. The district was burned again in 1597. A new Parian was erected far from Intramuros so that the latter will be spared if another fire broke out. After a few years, the Dominican friars established a district named Binundok (Binondo today), a forested area between Tondo and Quiapo. It became the site of the new Parian.
After the Sangley Revolt of 1603, the Spaniards destroyed and burned the Parian. After 30 years, the Chinese traders who were involved in the galleon trade built a new and bigger Parian.
In July 17, 1679, a royal decree issued during the administration of Gov. Juan de Vargas compelled all local unmarried Chinese, whether Catholic or baptized, to live in the Parian, and all married Chinese to remain in Binondo.
Gov. Jose Basco Y Vargas dismantled the Parian in order to build new buildings. He rebuilt the Parian far from Intramuros. It was totally destroyed in 1869. From then on, the Chinese were allowed to reside in the other districts of Manila.
Similar districts were also established in the different parts of the country such as the Parian de Cebu in Cebu City and the Pariancillo de Naga in Camarines Sur.
*Published in Student’s Digest Gr.4, Vol.27 No.4 SY 2006-2007 by Azur M. Peraz
References: Agoncillo, Teodoro A. A History of the Filipino People. Quezon City: Garotech Publishing, Inc. 1990.; Arcilla, Jose S. SJ. ed.. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People, Vol. 3: The Spanish Conquest. Manila: Asia Publishing, Ltd., 1998.; Zaide, Gregorio F. and Sonia M. Zaide. The Philippines: A Unique Nation. Quezon City: All Nations Publishing, Inc., 1994. Project Gutenberg. The Philippine Islands.; http://www.elaput.org.Photo credits: http://www.elaput.org/ntsk09.htm; www.pawainc.blogspot.com; www.aenet.org