First ‘OFWs’ in China


First ‘OFWs’ in China

By Go Bon Juan

Editor’s note: The Sixth Dr. Jose P. Rizal Awards for Excellence awarding ceremony will be held at 7 p.m., June 14, 2008, at the Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center on Anda and Cabildo streets, Intramuros, Manila.

As early as the 17th century, there were already “OFWs” in China. No kidding. According to Volume 4 of Ming Xi Zong Shi Lu (actual record of Ming Emperor Xi Zhong) in 1621 or the first year of Tian Qi, the minister of criminal justice, Huang Ke Zhan, reported to the emperor, “When I assisted in defense matters, I recruited big brass cannon makers from Luzon to the capital, and fabricated 28 units of big cannons. Seven units were delivered to Liao Yang [in northeastern China], the one that weighed more than three thousand jin [equal to half a kilo] went to Li Bing Cheng. With one shot at Fong Ji, it killed more than 700 Manchurians of Jianzhou, including two officers.”

This historical record is important. It tells us that as early as 1621, Filipinos from Luzon were already being recruited to Peking (today’s Beijing) to work there as cannon makers. It also shows that Filipinos were good at manufacturing big brass cannons that their skill had attracted Chinese officials in Peking. The cannons that they fashioned for the Ming court were used for defense against the Manchurians in northeastern China.

The Filipinos were producing cannons that weighed about 1,500 kilos. The cannons appeared to be of high quality, as shown by the incident in which more than 700 enemies were killed by just one cannon shot.

The account does not say how many cannon makers of Luzon were recruited by the Ming high official. But considering the size of the cannons and the fact that 28 of them were fabricated, it is safe to speculate that quite a few must have been recruited then. Certainly, more than one “OFW,” or “overseas Filipino worker” was hired.

Our own historical records show that Filipinos already had artillery they used to defend themselves against their enemies even before the Spaniards came. Raja Baginda, Muslim Prince from Sumatra, supposedly brought the first firearms to Sulu in 1390, or 141 years before Ferdinand Magellan arrived on Philippine shores.

It is not known, however, when Filipinos began making cannons and who introduced them to cannon making. But accounts show that Panday Pira set up a cannon-forging shop on the north bank of Pasig River, now San Nicolas district, when he and his relatives moved from southern Philippines to Manila. He was then 20.

On Rajah Soliman’s order, Panday Pira forged several pieces of cannon that were mounted on the palisades surrounding the kingdom and on the seaside portion of the wooden kuta or fort guarding the mouth of Pasig River. As large as the largest Malaga cannons that the Spaniards used, Panday Pira’s cannons defended Maynilad (today’s Manila).

The Chinese already had extensive trade with the Philippines long before Magellan landed on the islands. Since Pasig River was the main mode of transporting trade wares at the time, it is highly plausible to think that these traders must have seen Panday Pira’s cannons at the fort there. News of the Filipinos’ cannon-making prowess could have then spread to the Peking high officials in the Ming court through these traders. (ManilaTimes)

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