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Interaction and Innovation:
Studies, Preservation and Propagation
of Chinese-Filipino History and Heritage

President, Kaisa Heritage Foundation
Founding President, Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran Inc.
Secretary-Treasurer, International Society for the Studies of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO)

The many university-based Chinese studies programs in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Europe are also indicators of this growing interest and greater importance given to ethnic Chinese studies.


The opening up of China has elicited greater attention in the field of Chinese studies, which include not just the different disciplines and multidisciplinary studies of China itself but also the field of ethnic Chinese studies or Chinese overseas studies.

The International Society for the Studies of Chinese Overseas, http://issco.info/ (ISSCO世界海外华人研究学会) was established in 1992 as a scholarly, non-political and non-profit professional society of individuals and institutions interested in and committed to the study of Chinese overseas. The primary purposes of the society are to advance research and scholarly exchange in the study of Chinese overseas, to provide means for research and publications, and to organize and support national and international conferences. Since its inception, the ISSCO holds international conferences every three years and regional conferences in the two years in between. It also publishes the bi-annual Journal of Chinese Overseas (JCO).

The formation of the WCILCOS in year 2000 and the international conferences it has organized in the past decade aim at gathering together the different institutions and libraries for a productive exchange of information and activities focused on ethnic Chinese.1  Likewise, the Chinese Heritage Center in Singapore was founded in 1995 to advance knowledge and understanding of ethnic Chinese communities in different parts of the world.

The many university-based Chinese studies programs in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Europe are also indicators of this growing interest and greater importance given to ethnic Chinese studies. 


Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran (Unity for Progress菲律濱华裔青年联合) is a cause-oriented non-government organization founded in 1987.  Its cultural arms, the Kaisa Heritage Center (KHC华裔文化传统中心)and the Bahay Tsinoy, a museum of the Chinese in Philippine life (菲华历史博物馆), were both established in 1999. Unlike the institutions mentioned above, Kaisa is not university-based but it has undertaken considerable work and extensively used multidimensional perspectives in the conduct and promotion of ethnic Chinese studies.2

The Kaisa Heritage Center aims to preserve and propagate the tangible and intangible heritage of the ethnic Chinese in the Philippines by documenting the legacy of the Chinese-Filipinos in all aspects of Philippine life and showcasing the role and impact of the Chinese Filipinos in all significant events that shaped the Philippines as a nation.

These tasks are undertaken as a means of building bridges between people of different races, cultures, ethnic origins, traditions and beliefs. Most importantly, the task of undertaking studies on the Chinese in the Philippines cannot be done in isolation but can be accomplished only through close interaction and synergy with mainstream society. Some of the activities of Kaisa may be non-academic or semi-academic but it is an innovative and effective way of imparting knowledge about the role and impact of the ethnic Chinese in Philippine life. Kaisa’s activities help Filipinos share experiences of that life, one that is lived not in isolation in the ethnic Chinese community but in close relation with mainstream society.

Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran

The Beginnings

For the ethnic Chinese minority in the Philippines, Kaisa is at the forefront of the advocacy to establish for the ethnic Chinese “their rightful place in the Philippine sun.”  This unique organization plays a significant role in pushing forward minority rights in the Philippines and promoting a better understanding of the changes that have happened in the ethnic Chinese community through time.3  Underlying the young Tsinoys’ (a colloquial term to mean Tsinong Pinoy or Chinese Filipino) motive was the fear that like other countries, the ethnic Chinese may become convenient scapegoats due to economic ills and widespread poverty. The experiences of the Vietnam boat people were still fresh in everyone’s memories and the young Tsinoys found the need to band together as an organization to address these concerns and to be visible in the eyes of fellow Filipinos.

The most compelling reason to formalize the group had to do with existing traditional Chinese organizations and their inability to act as an effective bridge between the Filipinos and the ethnic Chinese. There was an urgent need to reconcile the differences and strengthen the relationship between the two cultures and to tap the potentials of the Tsinoys toward the rebuilding of a nation ravaged by 20 years of corrupt dictatorship.

Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran was formally launched on August 28, 1987, coinciding with what was the bloodiest military coup d'état against the Aquino administration—a baptism of fire in the truest sense of the word. The name Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran speaks for the motive force of the organization—there is a need for unity and oneness and the goal was progress for all—for the ethnic Chinese minority and the mainstream of Filipino society.

Kaisa’s advocacy is promoted through its three main areas of activities:

  1. Cultural,educational, and research work—for the purpose of this conference, I will limit my discussion to this.
  2. Social work and development projects which include educational, charitable, and relief projects and activities that address the problems of and benefit the marginalized and indigent sectors of Philippine society.
  3. Advocacy of issues concerning the Tsinoy community which involve participation in efforts to address the most pressing concerns of Philippine society in general and the Tsinoy community in particular. This includes concerns like the anti-crime efforts through restoration of peace and order, good governance, anti-corruption, and issues affecting the new immigrants and illegal aliens.

about kaisa_11-2003 copy

All these projects are undertaken as part of bridge-building efforts with the final objective of creating better understanding and forging stronger relationships between the Tsinoys and mainstream society as well as tapping the potentials of the Tsinoys in nation-building itself.

Research, Publications, Conferences, Exhibits and Other Educational Activities

Many of Kaisa’s activities have been sustained for more than 23 years and have created significant impact not just on the Tsinoy community but especially in mainstream society. Through cultural, educational, and research activities, Kaisa acts as a bridge of understanding between Filipinos and Tsinoys. The research and publications agenda of the organization are carried out not merely for scholarship or academic purposes but mainly to fulfill the advocacy role of enhancing greater understanding and acceptance of the ethnic Chinese. It enhances awareness and knowledge of the Philippine society about the changes that have happened in the Tsinoy community, and how its members have become important cogs in national development. Most importantly, it helps bring down barriers of stereotypes, prejudices, and myths between the two peoples and thus promote true national integration.

Kaisa has also extensively utilized print and broadcast media, as effective information campaign tools to dissipate myths and stereotypes about the ethnic Chinese, with the hopes of building a better image of the Chinese community and creating channels through which issues can be addressed.

To reach out to the mainstream Filipino society through print, Kaisa publishes/produces:

  • Tulay Fortnightly (桥), a fortnightly Chinese-Filipino digest. Tulay’s masthead bears the following words: “A bridge of understanding between two cultures; a bridge of tolerance between two ages.” The phrase elegantly sums up the goal of Kaisa’s two periodicals, which positions itself between two cultures, Filipino and Chinese, and between two generations of Chinese in the Philippines. Tulay means “bridge.” Launched on June 12, 1988, Tulay tackles national, as well as community-specific issues. Students read it to learn more about Chinese-Filipinos; members of the academe for its research articles; the general public for its news and features pertaining to the Chinese-Filipino community.
  • Integration (Rong He 融合) is the Chinese-language counterpart of Tulay. It is a weekly supplement published in the Chinese-language daily World News (世界日报). It discusses issues affecting the community, analyzes the Chinese role in concerns of the Philippine society, and provides insights about Filipinos and the Philippine nation for the benefit of the older generation Chinese. Published without break for 22 years now, Rong He is also Kaisa’s instrument in educating and informing Tsinoys and Chinese old and new immigrants, about the Philippines, its rich history and geography and mainstream issues.
  • “Pin-Pin.” From 1990 to 1995, Kaisa produced “Pin-Pin,” the first and only bilingual children’s television show in Philippine media. “Pin-Pin” won four times the Cultural Center of the Philippines Gawad CCP Para sa Telebisyon award as one of the Best 10 Television Shows for the year. The CCP recognized the show’s attempt to promote cultural pluralism, mutual understanding and tolerance despite differences in language and culture.  The  show used Filipino and Hokkien (the lingua franca of the Tsinoy community) to teach the best of Filipino and Chinese values, the similarities and differences in customs, traditions and language, and introduced Chinese values through folk tales. The young audience is educated to view cultural diversity and differences as positive values. For five years, “Pin-Pin” gave its viewers lessons in Hokkien, story-telling sessions, and assorted features on various aspects of Tsinoy life.

Kaisa’s research and publication activities are meant to debunk myths and stereotypes about the Tsinoy community and serve to influence government policy. The three volumes of Chinese in the Philippines: Problems and Perspectives (published in 1990, 1997, and 2004, respectively) covered major issues that affect the Tsinoy community.4 These books were consulted by scholars and academics but also by policy makers, media practitioners, and especially young students who wish to understand the Tsinoy community better. Another significant publication, A Collection of Archives on the Relations between China and Southeast Asian Countries in Qing Dynasty (中国第一历史档案馆编 《清代中国与东南亚各国关系档案史料汇编》)5, contains a collection of old documents on the Philippines, reposited in the first national archives of China. The book is an important reference for Filipiniana researchers and will benefit Filipino academics most in better understanding the close relations between China and the Philippines in the past centuries.


The latest and biggest cultural-educational project and in fact the most significant and the longest-lasting bridge erected by Kaisa, is the Kaisa Heritage Center, which opened to the public on January 19, 1999.  The Center’s main area of activities includes the Bahay Tsinoy Museum, Kaisa Research and Data Bank Center (华裔研究中心 、资料库), Photo Archive and Rare Book Section, and the Chinben See Memorial Library (施振民纪念图书馆).

This project is unique not just in the Philippines but in the world. The three-storey building sits at the heart of the historic Intramuros and was built entirely from funds raised from the Tsinoy community. Among its area of activities are:

  • Chinben See Memorial Librarycomprises an extensive and highly specialized collection of research materials, books, articles, magazines, journals, and news clippings on the Chinese in the Philippines, Chinese in Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Included in the collection are rare Filipiniana publications that mention or have bearings on early Chinese life in the Philippines. The library, with its more than 16,000 titles, has been frequented by local and foreign researchers studying ethnic Chinese in the Philippines and abroad.

  • Kaisa Research Center and Data Bank supplements the library with current research materials, books, dissertations, and theses on the ethnic Chinese, microfilmed archival materials, data from tombstones of Chinese in cemeteries from Aparri to Jolo. Data on Chinese participation in the Philippine revolution found in the Philippine Revolutionary Records were collected and incorporated into a monograph published in 1996. Surveys of young Tsinoys and new immigrants have been conducted to better understand the new changes in the Tsinoy community as well as how the younger generations have evolved. Policy papers and studies have become significant outputs of the data bank.
  • Bahay Tsinoyholds precious artifacts brought to the Philippines by the early Chinese – from farm implements, the weaving loom, cookware, goldsmith tools, and other items that had an impact on Philippine life to precious pottery and porcelain and other treasures. The museum reconstructs the life of the Chinese Filipinos over the last millennia in the Philippines, beginning with their early trading activities in the parian days, to their struggle to defend Philippine freedom and nationhood alongside the Filipinos, and finally ending with their role and impact on contemporary Philippine society.  Students and teachers from public schools, educators, government officials and influential policy makers, non-government workers and members of cause-oriented groups visit and marvel at the unique museum displays and the wealth of information it contains.

Bahay Tsinoy has 12 sections that depict the story of the Chinese in Philippine life from pre-historic to contemporary times.

KHC building -- colored COPY

Some of the rare and unique materials kept at Kaisa Research Center and Data Bank and Bahay Tsinoy:

  1. Microfilm of Spanish documents from the Philippine National Archives pertaining to the Philippines. 16th century Spanish documents, baptismal records, and a reproduction of the painting of the 1603 massacre of the Chinese.
  2. Copy of the earliest painting of a Chinese couple, Sangleyes, with the two Chinese characters 常来on top. This is part of the Boxer Codex, a manuscript dated, most probably, 1595. The original is kept at the Lilli Library of Indiana University in the United States.
  3. Publication of all Beijing First National Archives collection of Qing dynasty documents pertaining to the Philippines.
  4. 19th-century rare prints and photographs on the Philippines, with barefoot Chinese vendors included.
  5. Original religious icons hand carved by the Chinese artisans and priests vestments embroidered in gold threads by the Chinese, with unmistakable Chinese features.
  6. A complete collection of trade ceramics manufactured from all kilns in China. Highlights of the collection are the Tang Dynasty wares and the qingbai wares from the Song and Yuan dynasties. The celadon and blue and white pieces in the collection are equally outstanding ones.
  7. Antique pieces of furniture hand carved by the early Chinese and used in the typical bahay na bato (stone houses) owned by the middle-class Chinese mestizos and original farm implements and other equipments used by the Chinese during the Spanish occupation.
  8. Tombstones made of piedra china (Chinese granite), which were used before as ballasts for the sampans and used by the Chinese for tombstones. They were later utilized to pave streets and courtyards of stone buildings and churches.
  9. Microfilm of records and photographs of the Chinese cemetery since late 19th century to 1980.
  10. Original underground propaganda materials disseminated by the Chinese guerrillas during the Japanese occupation.

International Cooperative Research Efforts and Conferences

Kaisa has also undertaken collaborative or joint projects with many other research institutions to strengthen and expand its research efforts and strengths. These include research activities and international conferences.

A joint research project between Taiwan’s Institute of Modern History of Academia Sinica and the Philippines’ Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran and National Historical Institute, the “Documentary Sources on the Chinese in the Philippines” was undertaken from 1992 to 1994 through funding provided by the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation in Taipei.6  Kaisa has also given support and collaborated with scholars in China and elsewhere for research on the Chinese in the Philippines including research inputs on materials on the Chinese in the Philippines like the 12-volume Encyclopedia on the Overseas Chinese.

Kaisa also hosted two international conferences on ethnic Chinese, both held in Manila:

  • Conference on “Changing Identities and Relations in Southeast Asia,” sponsored jointly with the Chinese Studies Program of De La Salle University in 1991. This was smaller in scope with about 50 participants from Asia, America, Australia, and the Philippines.7
  • International conference on “Intercultural Relations and Cultural Transformation of the Ethnic Chinese,” held in 1998 and sponsored jointly with the Chinese Studies Program of the Ateneo de Manila University. This conference was on a much larger scale and held under the auspices of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas which has Dr. Wang Gungwu as president. More than 200 delegates from six continents—Asia, North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Australia—attended the conference.8

international conference

Of all of Kaisa’s legacies in more than two decades, perhaps the one its members are most proud of is the now widespread use of the term “Tsinoy.” Coined in August 1992 for a show to celebrate Kaisa’s fifth anniversary, Tsinoy, as mentioned earlier, is the shortened word for Tsinong-Pinoy or Chinese Filipino. Though this person’s features and language may be Tsino (Filipino word for Chinese), he is Pinoy (colloquial word for Filipino) in heart and mind.


Kaisa continues to receive support from all sectors of Filipino and Chinese-Filipino communities. The establishment of the Kaisa Heritage Center has received positive responses and generous support from a diverse cross-section of personalities and organizations. The Bahay Tsinoy has logged in nearly 350,000 visitors since its public opening in February 1999. State leaders from China and Chiefs of Missions in the Philippines have graced the museum with their presence.

All the work that Kaisa has accomplished find meaning and acceptance not just in the Tsinoy community but especially in mainstream. It is largely through building bridges that Kaisa has shared the uniqueness of Chinese culture and the richness of our heritage with mainstream society. Through innovative ways and activities, the organization succeeded in reaching out to the younger generation of Tsinoys as well as their fellow Filipinos.

Because of Kaisa’s invaluable contribution to the Philippine national development, it has received a number of awards which include the National Volunteers Award in 2005 given by the Philippine National Volunteers Organization and the Public Service Award in 2007 given by the Ateneo de Manila University in recognition of the organizations’ efforts to make a difference, in the Tsinoy community and especially in mainstream society.

As a fitting final word, a part of Kaisa credo states: “Our blood may be Chinese but our roots grow deep in Philippine soil and our bonds are with the Filipino. It is our desire, our hope and aspiration that with the rest of our people, we shall find our rightful place in the Philippine sun.” Kaisa certainly gives a voice and a face to the Tsinoy community. Being an ethnic minority, which is accepted as an integral part of a democratic, pluralist society like the Philippines, our organization indeed is able to mobilize the Tsinoys to “establish our rightful place in the Philippine sun.”


2 See websites of Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran at http://kaisa.ph; Bahay Tsinoy at http://www.bahaytsinoy.org; and Tulay Fortnightly Chinese-Filipino Digest at http://kaisa.ph/tulay

3 Teresita Ang See, “International Collaboration, Research, Publications, and Advocacy on Ethnic Chinese Issues: The Kaisa Experience in the Philippines,” in Chinese in the Philippines: Problems and Perspectives, vol. 3 (Manila: Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc., 2004), pp. 83-108.

4 Chinese in the Philippines: Problems and Perspectives,Teresita Ang See, ed. (Manila: Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc.), vol. 1 (1990), vol. 2 (1997), and vol. 3 (2004).

5 A Collection of Archives on the Relations between China and Southeast Asian Countries in Qing Dynasty 《清代中国与东南亚各国关系档案史料汇编》,许明、姚忠民  责任编辑( 中国第一历史档案馆编,2004 )。

6 Report on Documentary Sources on the Chinese in the Philippines (undertaken from 1992 to 1994) to the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation and the Institute of Modern History of Academia Sinica in Taipei on the outputs of the joint project conducted by the Philippines’ Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran and National Historical Institute. A full report can be found in Chinese in the Philippines, Problems and Perspectives, Teresita Ang See, ed. (Manila: Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc., 2004), pp. 187-201.

7 The Ethnic Chinese, proceedings of the international conference on “Changing Identities and Relations in Southeast Asia,” Teresita Ang See and Go Bon Juan, eds. (Manila: Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc., 1994). The conference, sponsored jointly by Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc. and the Chinese Studies Program of De La Salle University, was held in Manila in November 1991.

8 Teresita Ang See, ed. Intercultural Relations, Cultural Transformation, and Identity: The Ethnic Chinese, selected papers presented at the 1998 ISSCO conference, (Manila: Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc., 2000);  吴文焕 谝 <<华人的文化适应和文化改造,世界海外华人研究学会,一九九八年国际研讨会论文集>>(菲律宾华裔青年联合会, 2000)。

© Ang See

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