Fu­jian up close and per­sonal


In the thick of fin­ish­ing a chap­ter on Chi­nese de­mo­graph­ics and com­mer­cial his­tory in Cebu dur­ing the Amer­i­can colo­nial and early post-war pe­ri­ods for an up­com­ing book, the op­por­tu­nity to visit their places of ori­gin in China dropped like manna from heaven.

Members of a lan-lang (full-blooded) Chi­nese fam­ily now on its fourth gen­er­a­tion in Cebu invited me to join them as they vis­ited their home­town of Giok-Ong in the Quanzhou district of Fu­jian, the south­east­ern coastal prov­ince where many Chi­nese so­journ­ers left home via the port of Amoy (or Xi­a­men in Man­darin) to try their luck in “Nanyang” as they call South­east Asia.

For six days, I was wit­ness to the close per­sonal connections that this com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful Cebu-based fam­ily, whose busi­ness in­ter­ests have gone na­tional if not global, had with their pa­tri­arch’s home­town (“qiaox­i­ang” in Man­darin), as well as the first place in Min­danao where he made his for­tune only to be squan­dered by World War II.

Given their de­sire for pri­vacy — plus the ob­vi­ous hu­mil­ity and self-ef­face­ment that I was wit­ness to ever since I ac­cepted their re­quest to help write their fam­ily his­tory — their names shall re­main anony­mous.

It is suf­fi­cient to say that the trip to Quanzhou (Chuan­chow in Hokkien), with a day­long tour of Xi­a­men, was ex­hil­a­rat­ing and ex­tremely im­por­tant for me as much as for them. It was in Xi­a­men (or Amoy/Emoy of old) where thou­sands of Chi­nese boys, barely in their teens, left dur­ing the last four cen­turies, many of them re­turn­ing only to die. One of those was this fam­ily’s pa­tri­arch, who left as an ado­les­cent to carve out a name for him­self, leav­ing a vil­lage that pro­vided no op­por­tu­ni­ties for the poor then. From time to time he would re­turn, first to marry, then to spend a few months to pro­duce an off­spring.

We vis­ited his an­cient home in a vil­lage of just 1,800 res­i­dents, now sport­ing a new sixlane con­crete high­way de­void of traf­fic amid three story houses of con­crete and nickel-plated doors and win­dows. For­tu­nately, de­spite the pogrom that fol­lowed Mao Ze-Dong’s Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion (1968-1978), the an­ces­tral house of brick and stone sur­vived to the present.

There is no doubt that the economic suc­cess that has char­ac­ter­ized the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China ever since Den Xiao Ping en­cour­aged ev­ery­one to be rich and be happy nearly three decades ago has reached this tiny cor­ner of Jin­jing City in Quanzhou.

There is a sad foot­note to this visit, by the way, when we went to the beau­ti­ful and oh-so modern Quanzhou Mar­itime Mu­seum where so very few ar­ti­facts of the past are on dis­play, mostly ce­ram­ics. Th­ese ob­jects clearly es­caped the burning of books and the de­struc­tion of what were then la­beled dur­ing the chaotic Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion as the trap­pings of bour­geois or cap­i­tal­ist life.

Nev­er­the­less, China has clearly not dwelled too much on the er­rors of the past and has moved for­ward at such dizzy­ing speed. On one eight-lane high­way we all mar­veled at a long line of fac­to­ries and show­rooms of gran­ite and mar­ble stone slabs as well as tiles of all kinds. I was re­minded of Ky­oto in Ja­pan as we drove through mul­ti­tudes of high rise public and pri­vate con­do­mini­ums, a se­ries of twin four-lane tun­nels (one head­ing out, the other com­ing into the city with­out both tubes ever see­ing each other and thus avoid­ing ac­ci­dents), sub­way trains criss­cross­ing cities and shiny brand-new China-made SUVs. And th­ese are just the most im­me­di­ate signs of economic suc­cess.

De­spite this, how­ever, China has pre­served what­ever is left of its past. We went to a fortress guard­ing the port of Xi­a­men and toured a re­lo­cated vil­lage in Jin­jiang called Wu­di­an­shi (“Five Shops District”), which con­tained struc­tures dat­ing even to the Yuan and Ming dy­nas­ties, teem­ing with lo­cal tourists. We also walked a 1200-me­ter long stone bridge built dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (about a thou­sand years ago). Then on our last day, we went to the au­then­tic Chua clan vil­lage in Quanzhou where many Chua scions in the Philip­pines come from.

China’s economic suc­cess got per­sonal and up close when I was told that when the Ce­bubased fam­ily de­cided to pay for our ac­com­mo­da­tions their rel­a­tives that hosted us gen­tly but with firm re­solve turned down the of­fer stat­ing that their lives were now dif­fer­ent from the last visit made in the mid-1990s, and that they could now af­ford. (Mind you, do not be fooled by the unas­sum­ing name of our ho­tel, Quanzhou Guest House. It’s a four-storey ed­i­fice sit­ting on top of a hill. Our rooms re­minded me of the suites Shangri-la Mac­tan Ho­tel but at a dis­counted rate of 1,700 in Philip­pine pe­sos each!).

Clearly for­tunes have changed for the bet­ter, for both sides of this fam­ily. And I cer­tainly hope that the same will hold true not just for one side, China, but also for the other, the Philip­pines, as the Duterte govern­ment gets ever cozy with this eco­nom­i­cally pow­er­ful neigh­bor.

Past For­ward kyut­nga­sawa@ya­hoo.com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.