Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Search for Gold Mountain

In China Men, Maxine Hong Kingston tells of Chinese fortune-seekers who ventured to the Philippines in 1603 looking for Kinshan the "Gold Mountain."

Travelers had told China's Emperor that such a Gold Mountain existed in Cavite near Manila rich in both gold and silver. In latter times, the name "Gold Mountain" was also extended to locations like Hawai'i, Mexico, California and other parts of the "New World" where migrant Chinese went searching for their pot of gold, or to escape difficulties in their homeland.

History records that in the year 1603 two Chinese Mandarins came to Manila as Ambassadors from their Emperor to the Gov.-General of the Philippines. They represented that a countryman of theirs had informed His Celestial Majesty of the existence of a mountain of gold in the environs of Cavite, and they desired to see it. The Gov.-General welcomed them, and they were carried ashore by their own people in ivory and gilded sedan-chairs. They wore the insignia of High Mandarins, and the Governor accorded them the reception due to their exalted station. He assured them that they were entirely misinformed respecting the mountain of gold, which could only be imaginary, but, to further convince them, he accompanied them to Cavite. The Mandarins shortly afterwards returned to their country.

-- John Foreman, The Philippine Islands, 114.

Areas of the Philippines have been described in this blog as Suvarnadvipa, Wakwak and other historical regions noted for their wealth in gold. When the Spanish colonized the area, even the local servants and laborers had nice hoards of gold in their possession.

And there was already a flourishing trade going on including the trade in gold. Merchants from Luzon, Maguindanao, Sulu and other areas of the Philippines were well-established at ports like Malacca and most of mainland and insular Southeast Asia, and appeared to have handled most of the trade between Malacca and China.

In 1572, during the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, Juan Pacheco Maldonado describes the existing incoming trade in the Philippine region:

So also the rich country of Japan, whence is brought great quantities of silver, is three hundred leagues, more or less, distant from the island of Luzon. Every year Japanese ships come to these islands laden with merchandise. Their principal trade is the exchange of gold for silver, two to two and a half marcos of silver for one of gold. Two hundred leagues south of Luzon is the island of Mindanao, whence is brought cinnamon. Likewise about one hundred leagues north of Luzon, and very near the mainland of China, is an island that they call Cauchi, which has a great abundance of pepper. The king of China maintains trade with this island, and so there are many Chinese there. They have their own agency for the collection of the pepper. Twelve or fifteen ships from the mainland of China come each year to the city of Manila, laden with merchandise: figured silks of all sorts; wheat, flour, and sugar; many kinds of fruit; iron, steel, tin, brass, copper, lead, and other kinds of metals; and everything in the same abundance as in España and the Indies, so that they lack for nothing. The prices of everything are so moderate, that they are to be had almost for nothing. They also bring a great deal of bronze artillery, very well wrought, and all sorts of military supplies. This island of Luzon is very suitable and convenient for trade with China; men can reach the mainland from this island, because it is so near.

Colonies of both Japanese and Chinese were found on Luzon and in other areas just as Filipino colonies existed in locations as far as Myanmar. And the settlements in Luzon expanded rapidly after the Spanish conquest.

The gold trade also expanded particularly with Japan. Between 1596 and 1609, at least 43 goshuinsen or "red seal ships" came to Manila for gold and other products. The Spanish imposed a duty on all gold traded that for a short period stood at 10 percent but mostly was set at 20 percent. However, they exempted all gold that preexisted and was handed down as inheritance. This greatly limited Spanish revenues due to the massive quantities of heirloom gold. Legazpi, the commander of Spain's invading forces writes in relation to the gold found in the southern Philippines:

In spite of all this, we see that the land possesses much gold; for all men, whether they be chiefs or not, whether freemen or slaves, extract and sell gold, although in small quantities. Then, too, many ships come every year to these islands, from Bornei and Luzon, laden with cloth and Chinese goods, carrying back gold with them; yet, with all this regular withdrawal of gold, the natives have always gold enough with which to trade. All these things permit us to infer that, if the mines were worked steadily and carefully by Spaniards, they would yield a great quantity of gold all the time. Nevertheless, in some places where we know that mines exist, the natives do not care to work them; but, on the arrival of the foreign vessels for purposes of barter, they strike a bargain with those foreigners and allow them to work in the mines for a period agreed upon. From this it is clearly evident how slothful these people are.

Because Filipinos sold mostly inherited gold and were lackadaisical at best at working mines or panning for new gold, the gold trade revenues averaged only about 10,000 pesos a year.

By 1589, almost half of the Chinese junks obtaining licenses for Nanyang (South Seas) trade were headed for Manila, and by 1603 the Chinese population of the Parian district of Manila had reached about 20,000.

In comparison, the Chinese population of Batavia in 1619 was only 400, and in Malacca only 400 in 1649.

The first verifiable Chinese to settle in the New World came as crew members aboard Manila Galleons in the mid-17th century. They settled in Mexico, and in 1838 it was likely the descendants of these settlers along with other merchant families that came directly from southeastern China who migrated to Yerba Buena, the Spanish name for what was to become San Francisco. Both Mexico and California were also known by the name "Gold Mountain," or Gum Shan to the mostly Cantonese settlers. The region in those times was considered an extension of Southeast Asia. Even the Japanese called the Europeans by the name Namban "Southern Barbarians," i.e., the ancient name for Southeast Asians.

Gold was not the only reason the Chinese migrated to the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia and the New World. Many were fleeing the turbulence caused by resistance to the Qing Dynasty in South China. There were many millenarian groups involved. Some resented the foreign Manchu descent of the rulers and looked for a lost heir of the Ming Dynasty to return as savior. Others looked to the Great Eternal Mother, a Buddhist goddess, or some other messiah. The world of Southeast Asia had a special allure for the millenarian groups including the Triads, which spread throughout the region and even into the Western hemisphere.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Blair, Emma Helen and James Alexander Robertson. The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803 - Volume 03 of 55 1569-1576 Explorations by Early Navigators, http://www.wattpad.com/16503.

Foreman, John. The Philippine Islands; A Political, Geographical, Ethnographical, Social and Commercial History of the Philippine Archipelago, Embracing the Whole Period of Spanish Rule, with an Account of the Succeeding American Insular Government, New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1906.

Hom, Marlon K. Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987, 4-5.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. China Men. London: Pan Books, 1981, 308.

Junker, Laura Lee. Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000, 192-8.

Souza, George Bryan. The Survival of Empire: Portuguese Trade and Society in China and the South China Sea 1630-1754, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 54.

Takekoshi, Yosaburō . The economic aspects of the history of the civilization of Japan, Taylor & Francis, 2004, 402-3.