Wednesday, November 01, 2006


In 1598, the archbishop of Manila wrote the king of Spain about the ongoing practice of sodomy within the Chinese community. He went so far as to accuse the Chinese of spreading the habit not only in Manila, but throughout the Philippine archipelago.

Also in that same year, the king’s court received a letter from Antonio de Morga, a civil official, strongly suggesting that the movements of the Chinese be restricted. He claimed these overseas workers from China had become extremely troublesome — committing crimes and wantonly engaging in sodomy among themselves.

Meanwhile, the Augustinian missionaries in Iloilo were horrified to have discovered this widespread sexual practice among the Chinese. They sternly voiced out their revulsion to such deviancy; petrified that God might repeat in Iloilo what was done in Sodom.

Miguel Benavides, archbishop of Manila and founder of the
University of Sto. Tomas, demanded stringent measures. In 1603, he fired off a missive to the king citing the case of an Ilocana who was sodomized by a Chinese man. To protect the Filipinos — both male and female — he requested for a new parian to be set up to segregate the Chinese. He also recommended that those who engaged in such wicked behavior to be expelled and shipped back to China. In addition, he suggested that only the merchant Chinese be allowed into the colony, but to be placed on ships in the harbor during the night.

However, much to his dismay, the king’s court sent no response. Benavides was so enraged for having been ignored turned his ire on the Jesuits instead. Their greed, he pointed out, made them ignore sodomy and other sinful acts being committed in their midst by those who comprised the backbone of their lucrative enterprises — the Chinese who provided the Jesuits with indispensable services as artisans, carpenters, and merchants. Unbeknownst to the archbishop, the Jesuits may have been early proponents of the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”

The friars were credited with having chronicled this peculiar proclivity within the Chinese populace. Although prudish, they spared no detail in describing sodomy in their official records. They even applied linguistic argument to pound their point — that since no Filipino word existed for sodomy, it could only have been introduced by the Chinese. But then again, no word for hell existed in the local vernacular, either, until the Spanish introduced inferno.

For the most part, whether aware of it or not, these Spanish historians only revealed their anti-Chinese sentiments by constantly pointing their fingers on the Chinese for having caused every social ill in the Philippine archipelago — from crime to communicable disease to economic sabotage to kinky sex. Despite the friars’ relentless objection, the Chinese, out of spite, continued practicing sodomy throughout the Spanish regime.

The Chinese tradition of kinship-based immigration might have encouraged sodomy or (at least) made it suspect as a contributing factor. Kinship Immigration seemed to follow a general pattern. Once a Chinese had established a foothold in the Philippines — achieving financial success however modest — he would send for, or else go back to China and bring back a teenage son or nephew (almost always, they were adolescent boys, no females). They often apprenticed as store clerks or bookkeepers. Subsequently, the other relatives would arrive in the archipelago in the same manner until a fragmentary family was created.

Consequently, the sex ratio in the Chinese community remained unbalanced. During the latter part of the nineteenth-century alone, in 1870, the ratio was eight females per 1,000 males, or 193 women against 23,000 men. About sixteen years later, official statistics indicated 194 women in a general Chinese population in Manila of about 50,000. Another sixteen years passed, in 1903, the census registered 517 China born women in the general Chinese population of 41,035.

As it turned out, most of these women were prostitutes or concubines; therefore, normal family patterns were rarely, if ever, established in the Philippine Chinese community. It was also most likely that a majority of relationships among the Chinese were borne out of financial indebtedness — employee and employer or a merchant and financier. And in such cases, sexual favors may come in to play, especially when carousing with a roomful of sexually-deprived yet oftentimes aroused virile young men during lonely nights.

Sodomy then, in this case, may neither be a means to establish dominance over a weakling (as in a maximum security prison setting), nor incited by an amorous homosexual bonding between, say, a textile clerk and a bookkeeper. Rather, sodomy might have been a mere act to release sexual tension regardless of the partner’s gender; a basic need to get off, so to speak. Thus, a Chinese community suffering from a great disparity in its sex ratio, sodomy might have become a condoned practice however deviant and despicable it may have seemed to outsiders.

Now, whether or not sodomy was in fact a Chinese import — or the incidence of homosexuality among the Indios increased due to influence by either the Chinese or Spanish or both — will remain an arduous task reserved for learned anthropologists to ascertain.

By Ambeth R. Ocampo
Anvil Publishing
By Edgar Wickberg
Ateneo de Manila University Press


To borrow from Jerry Springer: Just because it’s unpleasant and embarrassing, it doesn’t mean we ought to look the other away and ignore it altogether.

Therefore, in fairness to the Chinese of Manila during the previous centuries, it should be noted (though it doesn't necessarily make it any more right or moral) that the Arab world, to this day, unabashedly practice sodomy. Stories abound about some Filipino overseas foreign workers who were sexually harassed by Arab men simply because they sport no moustache or beard. Lawrence of Arabia was, in fact, sodomized by an Arab sheik. The best-selling novel, The Kite Runner, contained graphic details about the adverse effects of forced sodomy and child abuse in Afghanistan. And in Uganda, the children — both boys and girls — are abducted and used as sex slaves by the L.R.A. (Lord’s Resistance Army); a grotesque, zombie-like militia, reminiscent of Christian Khmer Rouge, and has for the past 19 years set a standard of cruelty and ruthlessness. Its leader is Joseph Kony.

posted by Señor Enrique at 3:49 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that's why there are billions of chinese people dying from AIDS. It's because of shifting sexual partners! Well, in the case of sodomy, it's between God and them.

Now that's a brief history! I learned something new!

November 01, 2006 9:35 PM  

Blogger houseband00 said...

Hi Eric,

That was an interesting eye-opener of a post. Honestly, at first, it seemed racist but upon further reading, I realized the whole objectivity of the post. I like the way you challenged our sensitivities with this one. Naughty boy! =)

This is definitely one of the best posts you've done. Bravo!


November 01, 2006 9:53 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is definitely something new for me. Interesting! I did not know such cases existed until you wrote about it. Kinky sex ... Hmm.


November 02, 2006 9:44 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

jv-> I'd like to see the link to the billions of chinese people dying of aids.

eric-> unfortunately, Ambeth's book is not available here. :( I wonder where the statistics came from and whether or not its merely heresay or an actual fact.

November 02, 2006 9:56 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

Eric -> Read #20 and footnote #69 of the link below.

Fr. Talavera's case was based on a liguistic argument that 'sodomy' has no local equivalent.

From the link above, Santibanez (#20) perspective was labelled as "sinophobic".

November 02, 2006 10:53 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

November 02, 2006 10:53 AM  

Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

AIDs in China, or Africa, or anywhere becomes rampant when people tend to have promiscuous unprotected sex, that includes both hetero and homosexual intercourse.

I think it was John Steinbeck who wrote a novel that included references to this same phenomena, where the Chinese male population had almost no women available to them. In the US we brought over thousands of Chinese men to build the railroads; those poor guys were starved for females. In this novel a Chinese woman disguised as a man became pregant and when her gender was discovered by the men because of her big belly they brutally gangraped her, killing her in the process. In the book the baby boy inside her was salvaged from her dead body, I believe through an amateurish C-section, and they raised the child as a community, mostly out of collective guilt for their terrible deed. Is that not a wild story? Anyone recall what novel that is from?

November 02, 2006 11:29 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I take it you're kidding, JV. No way for billions of Chinese to be dying of AIDS.

I have absolutely no idea if sodomy is a rampant practice in today's China, but the incidence I mentioned occured during the Spanish rule of the Philippines. And the only mass deaths of Chinese which occured in that period was on account of a massacre -- 25,000 Chinese were annihilated; not from some sexually transmitted disease.

Thanks, hb00.

Actually, what I find rather unsettling about it is this: If indeed sodomy was such a major dilemma which rattled a couple of archbishops to lodge formal complaints to the king of Spain, how come Jose Rizal did not include any of this in his writings. As we know, Rizal was always cognizant of every shortcoming, peculiarity, or frailty of those in the archipelago yet, he never included sodomy or homosexuality. What made him shy away from such subject?

Sociology and anthropolgy are two of my favorite undergrad subjects, hb00. I guess in my delving into our local history, I cannot help but point out something out of the ordinary -- not so much to vilify it and those into it, but rather to understand how/why certain phenomenon exist(ed).

Kindky, indeed, Kyels! And it happened for a couple of centuries uner the Spanish rule of the archipelago.

Ambeth Ocampo, I must admit, S.A. is one with access to historical data and would base his essays from which. It was he who pointed out the sinophobia among Spanish historians, but the census statistics I got from Edgar Wickberg's book, The Chinese in Philippine Life.

My guess is that this historical aspect was based on actual fact. My only question is: How on earth did the friars discover such activity?

Many thanks for the URLs; I will definitely check out each one.

I agree with you, Phil -- promiscuous and unprotected sex often cause sexually transmitted diseases -- from syphillis to AIDS.

I know not about that particular Steinbeck novel, but I will find out about it.

Yes, the Chinese worked in the U.S. also especially with the railroad projects, and did so under extremely unpleasant conditions for the most part. And as in the Philippines, there were rarely any Chinese females among them.

November 02, 2006 1:22 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank goodness it's all behind us now, no pun intended.

November 03, 2006 9:59 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...



November 03, 2006 11:20 AM  

Blogger D@phneL@ur@ said...

"The Kite Runner" is one of my favorite novels of all time. Yes, there is a a rather disturbing incident of sodomy mentioned in the book but I'm not sure it is widely 'practiced' in Afghanistan.

Btw Lawrence of Arabia was violated by a Turk not an Arab Sheik.

November 04, 2006 4:41 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks for setting the record straight, D@phn3 L@ur@; truly appreciate it.

"Kite Runner" seemed challenging for me in the beginning, but it soon took on a flow which made it a fascinating read to the end.

November 05, 2006 11:17 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew the story were familiar. We discussed this in History class and our professor endorsed A Ocampo's book, Bonifacio's Bolo as a reference for the topic.

I think you could rarely blame the Chinese back then, with such great disparities in the sexual ratios it wouldn't a big surprise to find such acts common among them. It's human nature, when urges take hold of you, it's quite a challenge to control it.

November 05, 2006 2:28 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting...honnestly, this article didnt seem a bit racist to me. More of a historical-biological footnote.

And Im ethnic Chinese. ;o)

November 05, 2006 6:11 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

For such a young man, Jhay, you do have quite an open mind -- mark of great intellect, I must say.

Thanks for sharing with us about your discussion of this topic in your history class.

And thank you as well, Ivan, for seeing this as an objective attempt to knowing about the diverse aspects that comprised our early Manila culture.

I'm looking forward to the Intramuros walking tour with you. Please advise me of schedule soonest.

November 06, 2006 12:21 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're too kind Senor Enrique. Actually, when we talked about this in class, my classmates teased me because they knew that I had Chinese blood in my veins.

Then again it's also human nature to be hypocrites at times, as it turned out later in the semester that two of those who teased me came out in the open as bisexuals and active ones at that, during a drinking binge.

Of course it wasn't a such a big deal for me, though I got a kick out their confessions anyways. Truly amazing what alcohol can do to humans. :D

November 08, 2006 9:44 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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