Art By Samuel Noel
Art By Samuel Noel.

Chinese by blood, Filipino by heart: A celebration of cultures and identities

Not purely Filipino and not purely Chinese—Filipino, Chinese, both or neither? Identity crises aside, discover how intertwined are Filipino and Chinese cultures as we break cultural and language barriers for Chinese New Year 2024.

By Maxine Cheung | Monday, 4 March 2024

Chinese and Filipinos have been living side by side for centuries, accumulating countless shared experiences, practices, and places we call home. While many still choose to categorize themselves and others, even more people have chosen to embrace the harmony between the two ethnicities. For Chinese New Year this year, let’s be involved and get to know more about Filipino-Chinese cultures and identities. Who knows, maybe we’ll find that we aren’t so different after all.


Predating even the arrival of the Spaniards, Chinese people in the Philippines have long since mixed and interwoven with Filipinos as they bartered and traded goods and services since the pre-colonial period. The Chinese have influenced Filipino ways of living for as long as they’ve been here—from founding the world’s oldest Chinatown to even impacting the decision of the Spaniards to establish Manila as the capital of the nation. 


Today, many Filipinos trace their ancestry to the Chinese who settled in the Philippines. While the Filipino-Chinese still embody the values their ancestors had, they are no longer “necessary outsiders,” but an essential part of Filipino society.


Two sides of the same coin

Chinese influence on Filipino culture has long been rooted in the modern Filipino identity. With the new Lunar Year, it’s safe to say the presence of the Chinese is widely celebrated as establishments and streets are decked with red lanterns and decorations bearing Chinese greetings and words of good fortune.


Three Benildean Filipino-Chinese and Chinese students shared their experiences and understandings of their ethnicity with The Benildean


ID121 Human Resource Management student Michelle Wang expressed how the coexistence of Chinese and Filipino cultures has led to the creation of unique traditions and customs. Being a Chinese Benildean born and raised in the Philippines, Wang remarked on the sizable impact of Chinese culture on Filipinos, mentioning various traditions done by both cultures as a result of this influence such as lighting firecrackers and dressing in red for good luck as well as fēng shuǐ and the habit to bargain or tawad when shopping.


Just as the Chinese have influenced Filipino culture, the same goes for vice versa. “As a mixed-culture community, traditional Chinese ceremonies are frequently combined with Filipino customs during Chinese New Year celebrations in the Philippines,” Wang commented. 


Meanwhile, an ID122 International Hospitality Management student who goes by the name Dae explained, “Growing up as Filipino-Chinese, there were times I couldn’t differentiate which practices and traditions were Filipino and which were Chinese as our family practiced both at the same time.” He continued, “It was only later that I realized not all families did the same. My Filipino friends would be confused when I would mention temple visits and angpao while my Chinese friends wouldn’t know what noche buena was.”


While Chinese Filipinos are always expected to be either more Chinese or more Filipino, many don’t realize being both is already a part of their mixed identity.


Lánnang identity

Originating from the Hokkien phrase lán láng meaning “our people,” the term was historically used by Chinese immigrants to identify members of their community in a foreign land. Born from the wave of Chinese migration to Southeast Asian countries, today, lánnang refers to ethnic Chinese individuals who have mixed cultural backgrounds and use a modified form of their Southern Chinese dialect.


ID121 Architecture student Daphne Lim also imparted, “I’m [already the] third generation [of my family] in the Philippines. Both my parents were born and raised in the Philippines, and they were exposed to Filipino traditions and pop culture, so we’re not really the most ‘Chinese’ family out there, but my grandparents were the ones who grounded us in Chinese culture and language despite being here in the Philippines.”


Standing on the fine line separating the two cultures, being lánnang can definitely make someone stand out in a crowd or cause a deep sense of identity crisis. 


On his experience growing up Filipino-Chinese, Dae also aired out, “I was often transferred between schools growing up so I’ve experienced both Chinese and Filipino schools, both of which gave me a different perspective on my identity. There were times I wished I wasn’t Chinese so I could relate more and other times I was glad to be different.” 


Despite conflicted feelings, Dae came to realize that being both Filipino and Chinese was his real identity, “I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t both Filipino and Chinese. I don’t think I would feel the same.”


On the other hand, Lim felt less resistance from her identity growing up, “To be honest, I didn’t really feel the difference between Filipinos and Filipino-Chinese, socially or interaction-wise. I guess the difference would simply be from family cultures, traditions, and language.”


Differences and misconceptions aside, Wang found her purpose as an international student in Benilde, not allowing her Chinese heritage to limit her but rather acting as an avenue for intercultural interactions. “By sharing my ideas and opinions with my classmates, getting to know their viewpoints to better understand our differences and similarities, growing our connections, and discovering how different people behave and react, I can help more students gain an understanding of Chinese culture and engage in active cultural exchange.”


“The Philippines may not be perfect as there are still many who discriminate against Chinese Filipinos but I like to think we have reached a certain level of comfort with each other and can rely on each other as people from the same country,” Dae concluded.


Long-lasting fortune

Marking the beginning of the Lunar Year, Chinese New Year is celebrated all across the Asian continent and in pockets of ethnic communities around the globe, including here in the Philippines. Unlike the typical calendar and new year, Chinese New Year is celebrated for a total of 15 days with the rise of the first new moon of the Lunar calendar and ends on the arrival of the first full moon,  traditionally marked with a Festival of Lanterns. This 2024, these dates fall on Feb. 10 and Feb. 24, respectively.


The vibrance and liveliness of every Chinese New Year is a testament to the harmonious coexistence between Filipino and Chinese cultures, creating a one-of-a-kind cultural fusion and an avenue to share in the Filipino-Chinese legacy in the heart of the Philippines.

Last updated: Monday, 4 March 2024