Elements of Chinese Thought in the Filipino Mind (Alfredo P. Co)

Before Magellan rediscovered the Philippines, the Filipino natives had long enjoyed relationship with China, historical records of the Sung Dynasty show that the people of Mai – I visited Canton in 982 A.D. The Sulu Archipelago was mentioned in the Ming Dynasty Annals in 1410 A.D. The historical visit of Sultan Paduka of Sulu to the Imperial Palace of the famous Emperor Yong – lo can be found in the Ming Dynasty Annals, Volume 325.

The Chinese came to the Philippines primarily to trade, but their cordial encounter brought about the development of a more intimate relationship between the two countries. The two nations have come a long way since. There were intermarriages between Filipinos and Chinese and their descendants proved to have contributed handsomely to the history of the Filipino people.

Today those seeds of friendship have flowered and their descendants have significantly contributed to the forming of a basic Filipino identity and fundamental Filipino psyche. A cursory view of some of the more prominent Filipino thinkers and statesmen reveal the case in point. Jose Abad Santos, Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Burgos, Gregorio del Pilar, Mariano Gomez, Emilio Jacinto, Teodoro Kalaw, Juan Laya, Apolinario Mabini, Francisco Makabulos, Roman Ongpin, Doroteo Onquinco, and Jacinto Zamora have all played important roles in both early and recent Philippine history.

Let us not forget that the first and only Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz is half Chinese while our national hero; Dr. Jose Rizal was a descendant of Chin – Co and Zun – Niu, both of whom were Chinese. Again our former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino is a descendant of a Co clan; her great grandfather was Jose Cojuangco. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Claudio Teehankee’s father is Chinese, and so is the father of Jaime Cardinal Sin.

Filipino social lexicon reveals Chinese roots. Ate (elder sister), ditse (second elder sister), kuya (elder brother), diko (second elder brother), sanko (third elder brother) is among the social appellations voluntarily used in the Filipino language. Food lexicon cannot be complete without the use of such Chinese words as lumpiya (shredded vegetables wrapped in dough paper), mami (noodle dish), petsay (Chinese cabbage), siomai (steamed dumpling), taho (beancurd), tokwa (hardened beancurd), toge (bean sprouts), and many more.

The Chinese have taught the Filipinos many skills that in time have become an integral part of Filipino culture. For instance, the Chinese introduced the cast – iron plow – head, the production of sugar from cane and such arts as carpentry, masonry, smith crafting, weaving, dyeing, and soap and candle making. Even processing and preserving foods like miki, misua, bihon, and taho were taught to the Filipinos. The Chinese introduced wood – block printing to the Filipinos quite early. Filipino business, trade and commerce cannot be conceived without tracing its roots to the Chinese.

Can it be said that Chinese culture must have seeped so deeply into Filipino culture that it has remained there, potent and unquestioned? Could it be possible that when we speak of the Filipino mind, a part of the Chinese philosophical spirit also works unconsciously there? Perhaps so, and it seems that at this point the task of pursuing such inquiry falls right on my lap. With the given time frame, however, I can only pursue this project with circumspection for the paucity of my data may not warrant any valid conclusions. Moreover, I cannot at the moment, come up with a foolproof methodology with which to proceed with such a comparative study.

Allow me, then, at this moment to present this project by demonstrating my comparison in thesis form. Each thesis may not appear immediately connected with the ensuing thesis but it may be expected to throw light on the issue being posed.

The Filipino Mind Shares the Inductive Mode of Thinking of the Chinese Mind

The Filipino Mind tends to think in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract. It seems to esteem the data of sensory experience, i.e. those that are carried to him through perception, especially visual perception. As in Chinese Philosophy that abounds with reflections that point to particular instances, the Filipino Mind prefers to give examples rather than define the essence of such reflections. A common classroom discussion will readily show the operation of a Filipino mode of thinking in terms of particulars. Ask a student to define a concept and he will usually request that he give an example instead. This mode of reflection clearly shows that both the Filipino and Chinese minds were little interested in the Universals that comprehend or transcend a particular experience. It is quite possible, of course, that they may at times express, or suggest, a variety of abstract notions, but there are no indications of any logical connections among them. Could it be possible that both languages are quite poor for expressing abstract thought?

Their standpoint, which relies solely upon sensory qualities, has made them especially sensitive to a complex variety of phenomena instead of the laws and abstractly conceived unity of things. Here we know quite well that diversity rather than similarity characterizes the realm of phenomena. Consequently, the Filipino and the Chinese minds, which depend upon the perceived world of particulars, are naturally sensitive to the multiplicity of things. They rarely attempt to think about the universal validity of laws that regulate this multiplicity of things, as thought commonly by the Western mind.

This mode of thinking from the particular reflects a unique mode of philosophizing, namely, the method of induction. But, induction has to stop in order to give way to a more philosophical deduction, or so, at least, the western thinkers believe. Where do the Chinese and Filipino Mind proceed from here? They both normally proceed to look for inspiration from aphoristic sayings. The Chinese may then draw theirs from the classics, while the Filipinos may draw theirs from biblical quotations or from some folk sayings.

The Filipino Mind Shares the Chinese Anthropocentric Thinking

The Filipino Mind tends to consider all things anthropocentrically. As such it belabours itself with the problems of Man, his place in society, the meaning of life, the essence of good life, the problem of human relations – in short, the problem of society and ethics. A common serious talk among Filipinos could focus on his such issues as utang na loob, a find of unquantifiable, indefinable indebtness; hiya, a sense of cooperation, or an attempt to live in harmony with others, very often at the expense of what may at least be considered reasonable; karangalan, a kind of self – esteem, or a sense of dignity, which is founded. But no matter where these ethical discourses may lead him, he always falls back upon the basic moral, axiom of the Ginintuang – Aral, or the Golden Rule, “Huwag mong gagawin sa iba ang ayaw mong gawin sa iyo” (Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you).

This Golden Rule of Kong Zi (Confucius) precisely explains anthropocentric moral philosophy. For it presupposes first of all Man’s “being there,” and that there is such thing as a “human nature” true to all men. What I therefore think is good for me must also be good for others, and vice – versa, inasmuch as what I think is evil for me must also be evil for others, and vice – versa.

Consciousness of human others becomes the very moral founding – block of both Filipino and Chinese moral philosophy. Man becomes the centre of philosophizing rather than the cosmos. Kong Zi was emphatic in saying that philosophy should centre on man. He was right, because only man needs to philosophize. God, who is the repository of truth, does not need to philosophize, while the birds and the beasts cannot philosophize. Only man, because of his doubts, because of his uncertain – ties, needs to philosophize, philosophy is a domain purely of man, by man and for man.

The Filipino Mind, Like the Chinese Mind, Is Devoid Of Epistemic Truth

Ask a Filipino what Truth and Falsity is, and the first thing that dawns upon him is the ethical notion of Truth and Falsity. The absence of epistemic truth in the Filipino Mind illustrates the fundamental fact that Filipinos have not developed a system of logic.

We know that western thinkers tend to build their philosophy in terms of logical structuring. A system of logic is formed, and then philosophizing ensues. Their philosophical discourse begins with formal logical reasoning, and then ventures into material reasoning. But this western fondness for what they call truth is an offshoot of Plato’s early attempt to distinguish “doxa” (belief) and “episteme” (certitude or knowledge). And what was in the beginning of a formal distinction became a real distinction. In time, Greek, and eventually Western, philosophies became problems of “belief,” “knowledge,” “opinion,” “judgment,” “proposition,” etc. All these elements of philosophizing point to an ideal goal of attaining certitude for acquiring epistemic truth.

The Chinese, and in effect, the Filipino, approach to wisdom proceeds in a different mode. From the very beginning, they have always been concerned with the problem of understanding man in the world rather than merely analyzing it; of learning to live life rather than challenging it in terms of language and polemics; of learning how to glide with nature rather than conquering it. In effect, this kind of mind is more interested in the problem of the importance of living meaningfully in this world.

The Filipino therefore place great importance on propriety in their utterances and behaviour. Like the Chinese, they believe that true wisdom is “knowing – to” and not “knowing – that.” The Chinese, however, went further in declaring that “knowing – to” finds itself a paragon, a morally perfect gentleman.

In the absence of epistemic and semantic truth, we find predominance of practical moral and pragmatic truth.

The Filipino language, like Chinese, is marked by the pragmatic focus on whether an idea is able to transform man and not just to inform him. Language then becomes a signpost for a man to experience the good life rather than merely allowing man to know truth or create truth about it. It is in no wonder that in almost all literary works, we find the language consistently reflecting on the practical and action – guiding message. Could it then be that this almost deliberate refusal to discover epistemic truth reflects a particular temperament for creative power and intuition? This leads us to another thesis.

The Filipino Mind Shares With the Chinese Mind an Intuitive Approach to Reality

When we speak of great systems in Philosophy, what comes to our mind are Western thinkers of the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel and others. For indeed the West is noted for system building. With a system properly laid down, Westerners proceed to construct a philosophy. Such a system enables them to come up with a long treatise, or a discourse on an idea. Such method doubtlessly accords the Western thinkers the ability to demonstrate their thought discursively and dialectically.

Alas, such method is absent from the Chinese and Filipino minds. Their thinking starts with a contemplation of things unfolding before their eyes, and they allow their mind to outflow with their immediate and unspoiled impressions of reality. Streams of consciousness flow right from their hearts, giving no time for artificial censure of whether such impressions of them in this space – time continuum are. Indeed, in such a very private encounter with reality, every impression is always as valid as anyone else’s impression.

There is, however, a difference between the Filipino – Chinese intuition on the one hand, and the Indian intuition, on the other. While the latter consciously withdraws its sense faculty form the external world in order to give way to an inner – version of the highest truth, Filipino – Chinese intuition focuses on the very phenomena unfolding before one’s very eyes and in the process it becomes connatural with phenomena. Here its understanding of the world is also its immediate impression of the world. While the Indian would therefore become silent about the highest truth attained in his mystical intuition, the Filipino – Chinese would give a series of interpretations about the world in many poetic expressions.

The Filipino Mind, Like the Chinese Mind, Is Devoid Of the Notion of Contradiction

We have, in our previous thesis, claimed that the Filipino Mind as well as the Chinese Mind does not think in absolute terms. They consider reality unfolding before their own eyes as real and natural occurrences. Thus far they think that nothing should be viewed as contradictory with one another, their minds do not think in the common Western mode of a two dimensional logic, neither do they think in “either – or” as they find it most comfortable to think in terms of “both – and.”

This reconciling and harmonizing tendency may deprive them of discovering the absolute in things, but it also affords them to see light from both sides. The lack of the notion of absolute makes them take the notion of evil so lightly, for they cannot see the absolute goodness and absolute evil in things. To them there is always something good in evil things inasmuch as there is always evil in good things.

This attitude of the mind also affords their will to rest comfortably as they seldom have scruples. They usually acknowledge the individual significance, not only of every human being but also of each kind of philosophy as a thought of possessing some degree of truth (or falsity) in it.

When a Westerner argues with a Filipino or a Chinese, he will usually find him nodding his head in apparent agreement, but when the Westerner leaves, the Filipino or the Chinaman will fall back on his original posture on the issue just taken. For he nodded to show his respect for the other’s point of view, but at the same time, such courteous gesture should not destroy the view he so dearly treasured for so long.

When the Chinese depict two people arguing, they use pictorials of two smiling old folks under a tree gracefully sipping tea against the backdrop of a majestic mountain. For example, a colophon of such a Chinese painting may read: “Once a duck was flying in the sky. Someone saw it and said that it was a pigeon, while another said it was a mandarin. A duck is always a duck; however, only men distinguish things from each other.” Along this similar spirit, a Filipino is not interested in whether the Americans will call a form of payment aid or rent for the use of the bases; what really matters is that the money is delivered. This sort of intuitive imagery always seems to satisfy the Filipino and Chinese. Let the Westerners tackle the problem of semantics and the jargon of polemics.

The Filipino Mind, like the Chinese Mind, Surrenders to Higher Power or Force to Work through Man’s Life

Both Filipino and Chinese have always considered life and the world as eternally mysterious and unfathomable. They struggle to work their way through life, but a certain junction, when they can no longer course their life through obstacles, they surrender to a higher power to help them get across. “Bahala na”, a Filipino will say.

On a carefree day a Filipino will normally dream, struggle through life; he may plan for his future, but once confronted with a problem, he surrenders everything to God or to Bathala – let God finally decide on my future, “Bathala na.” For this all – knowing God will never leave him at a time when he needs Him most.

The Chinese notion of Wu – Wei (literally, non – action) in the Daoist Philosophy speaks of a natural course that is also considered the right path of life. A man may have his desires, dreams, and wants, but there is only one path that can deliver him from harm – the path of the Dao. In Dao everything comes naturally, effortlessly, and unmistakably. A man who lives along this path surrenders everything to the Dao to work through his life. He glides along the Way of Nature – forever simple, unaffected, sincere, and non – artificial.

This surrender to a higher force allows the Filipino as well as the Chinese to keep him intact and forever assured of a comfortable place under the sun. Because Bathala cannot abandon him in his time of need, “Bathala will protect him from all odds, and in time, the nightmare will pass away, the storm will be over and he can continue his smooth sailing again. While allowing the path of man to course itself along the path of Dao, man is also assured of the smooth road that leads to inner; serenity and peace.

As can now be gleaned, there seem to be many similarities between the Filipino and the Chinese Minds, and we will discover more of them. If we dig more deeply into the workings of both, this is just an initial attempt to draw such comparison. This project should be continued because history has shown significant collaborations between these two peoples. Moreover, a deeper Filipino understanding of the workings of Chinese Mind in him may in the future awaken his Dragon Spirit that has made Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Hongkong, Singapore, and lately, Thailand and Malaysia, assert themselves courageously in building their nations for the twenty – first century.

Co, Alfredo. Across the Philosophical Silk Road: A Festschrift in Honor of Alfredo P. Co (Volume 6: Doing Philosophy in the Philippines and Other Essays. Espana, Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2009. Print.