Why the Chinese Helped the British Invade Manila in the 18th Century


In 1762, the British invaded Manila. They had help from a traditional enemy: the Chinese.

Relations between Spaniards and the Chinese had been fraught for centuries, and a British invasion of Manila was the perfect excuse for the Chinese to help erode Spain’s control of the Philippines. But the more important question is, why did they do it?

According to Abinales and Amoroso (2005), tense relations between the Spaniards and the Chinese began in 1574, when notorious Chinese pirate Limahong attacked Manila. Instead of escaping, the Chinese residents of Manila helped Limahong by attacking friars, burning churches, and ransacking Spanish residences.

Because of that incident, Abinales and Amoroso said the Spaniards and Indios despised the Chinese and viewed the Chinese in Manila as a cultural minority. Afterward, other events encouraged the Chinese to aid the British in conquering Manila.

1593: Chinese Oarsmen Kill the Spanish Governor-General

Long before the events of 1762, the Spaniards had long been suspicious of the Chinese. In 1593, Governor-General Gomez Perez Dasmariñas prepared four ships to sail for the Moluccas on a conquest mission. According to historian José Eugenio Borao of the National Taiwan University, the governor-general filled three ships with crew members, and when the flagship was the only remaining ship that needed more hands on deck, the Spaniards recruited 250 Manila Chinese as oarsmen, who were to be paid two pesos a month. Part of the arrangement made was that the Chinese would only row if the weather permitted it.


Unlike the Indios, the Chinese were then unaccustomed to the culture of sailing, in which oarsmen were spurred to row by fearsome foremen. Unable to bear the brutal conditions aboard the flagship, the 250 Chinese mutinied and killed 80 Spaniards onboard, including the Governor-General Gomez Perez Dasmariñas. When the Spaniards learned of the event, the Governor-General’s son, Luis Perez Dasmariñas was recalled to Manila to act as interim Governor-General.

This event marked the beginning of a tense relationship between the Spaniards, the Indios, and the Chinese. 

1594: Chinese Officials Sent Warships to Manila

In 1594, according to Leonardo Argensola’s Conquista de las Islas Maluca (1609), seven mandarins (high-ranking Chinese government officials) sailed to Manila, bringing with them a huge armada of Chinese ships full of footmen and weapons.

Argensola said the mandarins went to visit the interim Governor-General “with great pomp and escort of men,” clearly attempting to show superiority or projecting power. According to Borao, Governor-General Luis Perez Dasmariñas welcomed them with an equal show of pomp and power: he gave each of the mandarins a gold chain, and then verbally conveyed to them his great displeasure of the Chinese mutiny that killed his father a year earlier.

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Borao said Governor-General Luis Dasmariñas concluded the Chinese had come to conquer Manila, but were likely surprised and intimidated when they saw that the Spanish Armada, which at the time was the world’s most powerful fleet, was at port in Manila. The mandarins may have believed the Spanish Armada had gone off to conquer Moluccas.

As a possible cover-up of their intentions, the seven mandarins told Governor-General Luis Dasmariñas they were only looking for illegal Chinese immigrants working in the Philippines without a license.

1603: Arrival of Three Mandarins and the Massacre of 20,000 Chinese

Nine years after the events of 1594, another group of high-ranking Chinese officials arrived in Manila. According to Borao, the mandarins claimed they wished to verify the existence of a mountain in Cavite which produced as much as 100,000 taeles of gold and 300,000 taeles of silver every year.

The Royal Audiencia of Manila grew uneasy about the Chinese expansionism into what they clearly saw was their turf. According to Borao, the Audiencia saw the Chinese expedition as a prequel or advance party to a possible invasion of Manila, a prelude to war.


The Spaniards, in anticipation of a possible attack from the Chinese pirates and the Chinese armada, prepared its defenses in Manila. Because of the Spaniard’s defense preparations, tension arose among the Chinese population around Manila. At that time, they greatly outnumbered the Spaniards in the Philippines. Fearing a repeat of 1574, the Chinese staged an uprising, anticipating a Spanish crackdown.

As a result of the Chinese uprising, the Spanish Governor-General Luis Perez Dasmariñas was killed. The Chinese also mounted decapitated heads of Spaniards on pikes, and set them around the city.

In response, a combined force of Spaniards and Indios, and large force of Japanese from the settlement of Dilao (now Paco, Manila) mounted a ruthless retaliation on the Chinese: they killed 20,000 Chinese residents in Parian, the designated residential and commercial areas for Chinese. According to Borao, the Japanese were especially unforgiving toward the Chinese, showing no mercy in the repression.


How Spain Subjugated the Chinese

To control the local Chinese, the Spanish colonial government used an unparalleled level of oppression unfelt even by Indios. According to Abinales and Amoroso, the government segregated the Chinese from the Indios, implemented hispanization, and expelled the Chinese, such that in 1581, all the Chinese in Manila were forced to live on the outskirts in an area called Parian.

The Parian allowed the Spaniards to control the Chinese more easily. The Chinese were forced to pay a number of fees: a yearly license fee, tributes, house tax, and other arbitrary taxes. The Manila Chinese were also required to do unpaid labor as a form of yearly tax paid to the government. According to Abinales and Amoroso, these fees were the highest level of taxation ever levied on anyone in the colony.

1762: The British Invaded Manila with Help from the Chinese

The British invasion of Manila was a catalyst that sparked multiple revolutions around the Philippines. According to historians Abinales and Amoroso, the invasion inspired revolts in Pampanga, Pangasinan, and Ilocos Sur.


Meanwhile, it also inspired another uprising: a force of 900-strong Pampanga Chinese, who allied with another large Chinese force in Manila. When the British also attempted to lay siege on Bulacan, another force of 400 Chinese aided them after the Bulacan Spanish governor Simon de Anda ordered their capture.

Eventually, the British occupied Manila without so much resistance from the Spaniards, and with help from the Chinese. It was a time when Spanish defenses in Manila were neglected.

During the occupation, the Spanish seat of government was moved to Pampanga, where it ordered a preemptive strike against the Chinese in Manila, according to Abinales and Amoroso. Not to be outdone, the Chinese in Manila sent a force of 5,000 back to the Spaniards.

In 1763, Spain and England signed a peace treaty, ending the Seven Years' War. The two parties agreed Manila would be returned to the Spanish crown in 1764.

As punishment, in 1766, Spain expelled from the Philippines all the Chinese who sided with the British during its occupation of Manila.


Many Chinese remained in the country and learned to be resilient and resourceful. They formed a closed community that became their support in the face of abuse, mistreatment, and racism from Indios and Spaniards. Many Filipino-Chinese of today trace their lineage to the Chinese survivors of the purge and deportation experienced by the Manila Chinese from the 17th to 18th centuries.


Abinales, Patricio and Amoroso, Donna. (2005). State and Society in the Philippines. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Argensola, Leonardo. (1609). Conquista de las Islas Malucas. Madrid: Por Alonso Martin.

Borao, José Eugenio. (1998). The massacre of 1603: Chinese perception of the Spaniards in the Philippines. National Taiwan University: Itinerario, vol. 23, No. 1, 1998, pp. 22-39.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of SPIN.ph as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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