Dr. Rizal's Chinese Ancestors
by Isidro Panlasigui
Austin Craig, the leading student of Rizal’s life, was able to trace Rizal’s Chinese ancestry from his father, Francisco, to his great-great-grandfather, Domingo Lam-co, a Chinese immigrant to the Philippines, during the latter part of 1600 A.D.
1. LAM-CO OR DOMINGO LAM-CO was the great-great-grandfather of Rizal. Lam-co was a native of Siongque, in the Chinchew district of the province of Fookien. … Chinchew was a large city with a population of around half a million people. At that time, Chinchew’s wealth and culture were considered better than those of Manila’s. The city was a literary center and the people were known for their loyalty, their love of freedom, and their friendliness and politeness to foreigners. Siongque was located in an agricultural region where farming was considered a most honorable occupation.
In those days there were many intelligent and industrious Chinese who came to the Philippines perhaps because of famine or of political troubles. Lam-co was one of these Chinese refugees to the Philippines. ...
Craig, describing the conditions of the Chinese in Manila during the early history of the Philippines, wrote:
Pagan or Christian, a Chinese’s life in Manila then was not an enviable one, through the Christians were slightly more secure. The Chinese quarter was at first inside the city, but before long it became a considerable district of several streets along Arroceros near the present Botanical Garden… They had their own headmen, their own magistrates and their own prison, and no outsiders were permitted among them. The Dominican friars, who also had a number of missionary stations in China, maintained a church and hospital for these Manila Chinese and established a settlement where those who became Christians might live with their families. Writers of that day suggest that sometimes conversions were prompted by the desire to get married—which until 1896 could not be done outside the church—or to help the convert’s business or to assure the protection of an influential godfather, rather than any changed belief.
Lam-co was converted to the Catholic Church not because of the reasons mentioned in the above quotation, but because of his sincere desire to be a Catholic. Before he came to the Philippines, he was already acquainted with Catholicism because his community was a missionary field of the Jesuits and later of the Dominicans. Besides, the Chinese in the district where Lam-co came from considered their religion akin to Christianity.
At the age of 35, Lam-co was baptized on Sunday (Domingo), June 1697, in the Parian Church of San Gabriel. … Lam-co then became Domingo Lam-co. In his baptismal record, his parents were simply listed as Siong-co and Jun-nio. It is believed that his parents belonged to the upper bracket socially as indicated by the particles -co and -nio at the end of their names. These two particles correspond to the Spanish Don and Doña which are indicative of social position and prestige.
Domingo Lam-co settled in Biñan, on the Dominican estate called San Isidro Labrador. This town was one of the most prosperous and cultured towns at that time outside of Manila. Domingo made many friends among whom two were powerful and learned friars, Francisco Marquez, the author of a Tagalog grammar [book], and Juan Caballero, a former missionary to China.
Domingo Lam-co was a leader among the Chinese and was often called to Manila to be a godfather in baptisms or sponsor in weddings. He helped in the founding of Tubigan barrio on the richest part of the estate. The other Chinese settlers in this barrio were also from Chinchew district.
Domingo married Inez de la Rosa, a girl very much younger than he. She was the daughter of his friend, Agustin Chinco, a rich Chinese merchant. He was well educated. Agustin was baptized five years before Domingo. Inez’ mother was Jacinta Rafaela, a Chinese mestiza of Parian. The marriage ceremony took place in the Parian Church where Domingo was baptized. Domingo and Inez had two children, Francisco and Josefa, who died five days after her birth. Francisco was only two years old when Josefa died. Domingo gave his son the name Francisco Mercado, after an uncle and friar scholar of Manila.
2. FRANCISCO MERCADO was the great-grandfather of Rizal. Francisco, like his father, was a leader and influential man of Biñan. He was a rich man as shown by the large number of carabaos that he owned. He was made alcalde of the town in 1763. He lived in troubled years similar to those of the time of his grandson Francisco. There were then land troubles, the wholesale hanging of Chinese, the expulsion of the Jesuits, the growing unrest against the Church because of the establishment of “a uniform scale or charges for the various rites of the Church.” Francisco Mercado was interested in political matters. He often visited Cavite and Manila.
Francisco married Bernarda Monicha on May 26, 1776. Bernarda was a Chinese mestiza in the Hacienda San Pedro Tunasan, but being orphaned early, she lived in Biñan with relatives. Francisco and Bernarda had two sons, Juan and Clemente. Francisco died in 1801, 60 years before the birth of Rizal.
3. JUAN MERCADO was the grandfather of Rizal. Juan was also a leader and a man of great influence. He was a gobernadorcillo and popularly known as “Capitan Juan.” He was the chief of the town three times, 1808, 1813 and 1823. He was also an active church leader and accordingly, he was chosen hermano mayor several times.
For purposes of taxation, the Spaniards had two lists of families—one for the Chinese and the other for the Indios or Filipinos. Indios is a term used by the Spaniards to designate the Filipinos. Capitan Juan, for the first time, listed his family Indios. He did this because of the fact that his family was the fourth generation from that of Lam-co’s own generation and he believed that at that time, his children were more Filipino than Chinese in their way of life.
Capitan Juan married Cirila Alejandra, the daughter of Siongco, a godson of Lam-co. Capitan Juan and Cirila had 12 children—seven boys and five girls.
4. FRANCISCO MERCADO was one of the seven sons of Capitan Juan. ...Although Capitan Juan was a rich man, he did not have enough land to go around his seven sons. It was, therefore, necessary for the sons to look for land to cultivate for a living. The Mercados were known to be good and industrious farmers. Because of his agricultural ability and industry, Francisco was able to raise a family which was financially comfortable. As a young man, Francisco was an industrious and efficient farmer, honest and reliable worker so that the landowners were willing to give him land for cultivation. Craig observed about Francisco:
Francisco, in spite of his youth, became a tenant of his estate, as did some others of his family for their Biñan holdings were not large enough to give farms to all of Capitan Juan’s sons. The landlord early recognized the agricultural ability of the Mercados by further allotment, as they could bring more under cultivation. Sometimes, Francisco was able to buy the holdings of others who were discouraged with their unsuccessful management.
Francisco attended the Latin school in Biñan where later on, young Rizal would study his Latin. He went also to the College of San Jose in Manila, where he studied Latin and philosophy. Francisco is described by Palma:
He was 40, of solid shoulders, strong constitution, rather tall than short, of serious and reflective mien, with prominent forehead and large dark eyes. A pure Filipino.
Francisco married Teodora Alonzo, whose father, Lorenzo Alberto Alonzo, was described as “very Chinese in appearance.” He was believed to be a descendant of Lakandola, a Bornean Moslem. Lorenzo’s mother, Maria Florentina, belonged to the famous Florentina family of Chinese mestizos of Baliuag, Bulacan. Teodora Alonzo belonged to [prominent Filipino] families.
Let us take a short detour to see an interesting fact about the Mercado family. ...Why is it that Lam-co’s descendants were Mercado [and] not Lam-co, and Rizal was Rizal and not Mercado? ...Craig ... wrote:
The Lam-co family was not given to the practice of taking the names of their godparents. Mercado recalls both an honest Spanish encomendero of the region, also named Francisco, and a worthy mestizo friar, now remembered for his botanical studies, but it is not likely that these influenced Domingo Lam-co in choosing the name for his son. He gave his boy a name which, in the careless Castillians of the country, was but a Spanish translation of the Chinese name by which his ancestor had been called. Sangley, Mercado and Merchant mean much the same; Francisco, therefore, set out in life with a surname that would free him from the prejudice that followed those with Chinese names and yet would remind him of his Chinese ancestry.
As regards the change of name from Mercado and Rizal, let us read what Russell and Rodriguez wrote:
...the wise old Governor-General Claveria ... provided a list of Spanish names, apparently copied in alphabetical order from the Madrid directory, and required the head of each family to take one of these, add it to the rear or front of whatever other names he was carrying, and hand it down to his children. The father of Francisco Mercado met the spirit of the decree but evaded its letter. He chose for his official name that of Rizal, which was not on the governor’s list but passed muster. It is a corruption of the Spanish word ricial and means a green field or pasture; being here a poetic recognition, may be, of the blessed state of Mercado’s own rentals.
But the name Mercado remained the family name for the Mercados. Only Jose Rizal took the name Rizal. ...For the difference in the names, Rizal gave the following explanation to his friend Blumentritt:
When you write to my brother, address him Paciano Mercado... After the sad catastrophe (1872), he had to leave the University since he was a liberal and the friars did not like him because of his having lived with Burgos. At that time, I had to go to Manila to study, and in order not to have difficulties in my studies, I was advised to use our second name, Rizal. For some time, I am the only Rizal because at home my parents, my sisters, my brother, and my relatives always preferred the old surname Mercado. Our father’s name was in effect Mercado; but in the Philippines there are many Mercados who are not our relatives. There was an alcalde, a friend of the family, who used our name Rizal. My family, however, did not mind this because even now I alone use the name. Accordingly, does it not appear as if I were an illegitimate son? My father and all my family remain valiantly united [and] permanently loyal to the Filipino party, and my brother is much braver in exile than he was before. My whole family now carries the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal signifies persecution. Good. I want also to stick with them and be worthy of the name of the family...
...Although fragmentary and incomplete, the above data about Rizal’s lineage of four generation, suggest the following conclusions:
1. Rizal’s ancestors of four generations were predominantly of Chinese blood in both paternal and maternal sides.
2. Considering the achievements and successes of the Mercados, it is safe to say that they were of the intellectual and industrious families. They were all well to do leaders, respectable, and influential men among their peers—Chinese, Filipinos, Spaniards, and others. From Domingo to Francisco, Rizal’s father, one can see the presence or personality traits necessary for dynamic leadership—honesty, sincerity, loyalty, intelligence, independence of thinking, deep and sincere conviction, and fearlessness to meet eventualities. All these personality traits were found in Rizal ... in high degree.
3. These facts seem to give evidence that Lam-co came to the Philippines, not because of famine in China, but because of political troubles. The following quotations from Craig are pertinent to the point:
The Chinese conditions of these early days are worth recalling, for influences strikingly similar to those which affected the life of Jose Rizal in his native land were then at work. There were troubled times in the ancient “Middle Kingdom,” the earlier name of the corruption of the Malay Tchina (China) by which we know it. The Chinese leader patriots wanted reform, by education, through Heaven-Earth-Men Brotherhood.
Famine in his native district or plague which followed it, may have been the cause of Lam-co’s leaving home, but it was more probably political troubles which transferred to the Philippines that intelligent and industrious stock whose descendants have proved such loyal and creditable sons of their adopted country. The possibility that Lam-co came to the Philippines because of political troubles in China poses an interesting speculation. It was indeed prophetic of the political troubles that Rizal had to see since his childhood, violently crushing the Filipinos...
4. That Dr. Jose Rizal, the greatest hero of the Filipinos, was the most important and most significant Chinese contribution to the Philippines. This ... does not mean that Rizal was not a Filipino. Capitan Juan ... reconsidered himself and his children Filipinos. Palma considered Francisco Mercado, Rizal’s father, “a pure Filipino.” From this statement of Palma, one can gather that purity of citizenship or nationality is not a matter of blood or race but one of sentiment and loyalty. It is therefore impossible to have Filipinos of pure Filipino blood who may not be pure Filipino in sentiment and loyalty. When we say that Rizal is the greatest and the most significant Chinese contribution, we simply mean that the greatest Filipino hero had Chinese ancestors, who ... were good, industrious, honest, and loyal Filipino citizens.
Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc. (Unity for Progress) is a cause-oriented nongovernment organization aimed at promoting the integration of the Tsinoys (Tsinong Pinoy or Chinese Filipinos) into mainstream Philippine society. It also maintains the Chinben See Memorial Library, a specialized library on the Chinese in the Philippines, Southeast Asia and the world. Chinben See Memorial Library is a member of LibraryLink.
Source: Panlasigui, I. (1999). Dr. Jose Rizal's Chinese ancestry. Manila : Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran