Read B.A.D., then this.
I’ll wait …
nuninuninuni … oh. you’re back. Good.
Here’ what benign0 wrote:
smoke, thanks for the interest in my piece. I have a response to it that can be summarised in two words:
The link to Filipino Chinese goes to benign0’s homepage. Here’s what it says:
We don’t have to look too far to find cultural success stories. Right under our noses, the Filipino-Chinese community had gone from Third Class Citizenry to Captains of Industry. Although this phenomenon is by no means unique to the Philippines, we like other Third World cultures, have been on the front row to a self-development show that we have slept through for centuries. And during our waking hours, we as a people focused our efforts on mediocre and corrupt politicking and self-pity activism.
So how does one explain an ethnic underclass that succeeds in hurdling prejudice, poverty, and cultural isolation to turn their ghettoes into today’s prime real estate while the indigenous people bred chaos, mutual oppression, and decay? In this light, any kind of excuse is invalidated. Bad governance and lack of education are the top scapegoats, for example. They simply beg the question: the Chinese community was with us through countless corrupt and inept administrations, they had to register their businesses in the same public offices, and they paid taxes to the same government. Furthermore, they landed on our shores, speaking not a word of English or Tagalog. Now, their volunteer fire brigade is far more reliable (and honest) than the government-run force.
Enough books and studies have been made on Chinese culture to help anyone figure out why things are this way. This does not mean, that we have to undertake a massive effort to analyse Philippine culture to figure out how we move forward from here. The bottom line is that the Chinese community in the Philippines is a shining example of the precept that we, as a people, have not worked hard enough at overcoming obstacles to development.
Can it get any simpler than that?
There is no denying that the Filipino Chinese represent a tremendous success story (and my dad would kill me if I disagreed anyway! LOL!). However, the question really is, can the success of that relatively small – and fiercely self-contained – community be emulated by an entire country?
Let’s take one ingredient of FilChi success, for instance: self-containment.
The FilChi community is an incestuous little bunch that – during their rising years – was nearly impossible for outsiders to penetrate. As a result, their culture remained isolated from others and their mores – as well as their business gumption – got passed on to their inheritors with very little degradation.
Just as importantly, this self-containment pretty much assured that the money never strayed too far from the community. If Ji Wen Ja, f’rinstance, needed bearings for his manufacturing business, he wouldn’t dream of going to Joe Smith. He’d much rather go to Li Fang, even though Li Fang’s product might not be as good as Smith’s. Now this kind of arrangement made it possible for the FilChi to engage in predatory pricing, which basically cut the legs out from under his not-chinese competitors. And of course, after several decades of that, is it any surprising that they’ve risen to the top.
Parenthetically, this was also – in several parts of Europe anyway, particularly pre-Nazi Germany – the model of Jewish prosperity. Like the Chinese, European Jews were pretty self-contained, treating outsiders as mere consumers. Which calls to mind another of bening0’s assertions: that the Chinese were an ethnic underclass.
Being an ‘underclass’ seems to me to be a matter of perception. The Chinese, and the Jews, were derided as mere merchants. But did they care? They were rolling in money. Who cared if the stupid consumers thought little of them? Officially, then, they may have been an underclass. But in many of the ways that mattered, they were far better off than the people who needed official labels to feel good about themselves.
And this kind of phenom isn’t extinct either. Many of us today are still surprised to see street vendors along Ilaya in Divisoria getting picked up by luxury vans. The surprise is a direct result of our impression – whether we acknowledge it or not – that these street vendors are a kind of ‘underclass.’ While we talk to them condescendingly; while we snigger at getting them to knock 100% off of their asking price; and while we go home to our dinky little houses, they’re laughing at us all the way to their homes in White Plains.
Another thing that made the FilChi rise to the top possible – inevitable even – was the fact that for a long time, competition in the general marketplace from not-chinese businesses was virtually non-existent. That virtual monopoly might even have pre-dated the Spanish colonization. And during Spanish times, Europeans brought in their wares, of course, but mostly for other Europeans as well, totally inaccessible to the masses. The Chinese had a corner on the masses. So is it surprising that they’re on top now? Hardly.
Now, as benign0 would have us do, compare that with the native Filipino. When the Chinese already had an entire business district named after them, the Filipinos were not even allowed to think of themselves as a nation. With a headstart like that, what would be surprising is if the FilChi didn’t end up on top.
All told, I don’t want to trivialize the role of culture in FilChi success. But even benign0 has to admit that it wasn’t just culture. It was also that the FilChi have been doing business longer than Filipinos have had the freedom to even call themselves a nation; it was also that the FilChi have a strong sense of identity – allowing the phenom of self-containment – which FIlipinos have been denied; and it was also that the FilCHi community is not exactly a country – it’s not even a democracy.
Now, the question is, is your typical Filipino standing on equal footing as the FilChi such that a valid comparison can be made between the two?
That should be simple question to answer.