PUBLISHED IN LANTAYAN Vol. 9 (Academic Year 2010-2011)
Pastoral-Theological Journal of Don Bosco Center of Studies, Paranaque City, Philippines

To understand the Church’s thrust of inculturation, it would be of primary concern to identify the three basic levels of culture at the outset. Identifying the levels of cultures will enable us to know how people organize societies and communities. It is of paramount importance that as the Gospel is proclaimed to a people, it has to identify both external and internal parts of culture in order to transform, purify and develop culture according to the design of God. John Paul II mentioned the two dimensional tasks of the Church in its dialogue and encounter with culture: “On the one hand, the Church promotes such ‘values of the kingdom’ as peace, justice, freedom, brotherhood, etc., while on the other hand, she fosters dialogue between peoples, cultures and religions, so that through a mutual enrichment they might help the world to be renewed and to journey ever closer toward the kingdom.” (1)

Culture Mentality as Innermost Aspect of Culture

Louis Luzbetak identifies three levels of culture as important levels of integration. Cultures are systems consisting of a unique arrangement of parts. These are comprised of forms and symbols that provide identity to a people.

Levels of Culture

Material Culture

At the surface level, we find observable, tangible and phenomenal parts of culture. Material culture includes building blocks of culture–forms, shapes, signs and symbols minus their meanings. These are the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “how” and “what kind” in culture especially in their meaningless forms. (2)

Charles Kraft said that material culture includes axes, hoes, houses, clothing, automobiles, dogs, people etc. (3) It is the external phenomena such as objects, events, processes, which incarnate, incorporate, realize, externalize the internal experience. This is also called material integration.

Cultural Forms

The second level of culture refers to the functions of forms, symbols and signs. It speaks of the relationships and linkages between people. Forms are related to create systems of meaning. Culture is communication in as much as it conveys meaning to people. Each cultural form marks the attitudes, values and mental thoughts of people. This is also called structural integration.

Examples of cultural forms are the rites of marriages, initiation rites or rites of passages, colors to indicate signs and symbols used to demonstrate the identity of a tribe or people. These forms build relationships which may be causal, purposeful, logical or purely ideational. (4)


 The third level of culture refers to the basic psychology of a people. This level of culture includes the underlying reasons of a society. It is the starting point of thinking, reacting and motivating. It is the mind-set of a people that powerfully conditions behavior. Louis Luzbetak calls this the “mentality of a culture.” (5) It comprises modes of living, lifestyles, beliefs and assumptions. It manifests the “whys” of culture.

The mentality of a culture speaks of the “psychological integration” of a particular people. It directly describes the underlying premises, attitudes and goals of a people. Pitirim Sorokin calls culture mentality an inner experience, either in its organized form of unintegrated images, ideas, volitions, feelings and emotions, or in its organized form of systems of thought woven out of these elements of the inner experience. (6) The culture mentality that Pitirim Sorokin spoke of refers to the pertinent aspects of culture that manifest how and why a people react to a situation, or these may speak of coherent ways of thought and consistently manifested attitudes about reality and life.

Various Terms

There are several terms that capture the meaning and reality of culture mentality.


“Genius” was a term used by Edward Sapir (1884-1939). It is meant to describe general attitudes, views of life and specific manifestations that give identity to a people. Genius may be understood in three ways, the first of which refers to the inherited element of culture which is synonymous to “spirit”. It provides the nationality, the image and identity of culture. (7)

Soul and Spirit

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) believes that each culture and civilization is governed with a certain “spirit” that distinguishes one cultural pattern from another. It is the soul of a people that gives unity and distinct identity. It distinguishes the French, German, English and Filipino cultures from one another. He held that the Absolute Spirit passes to its full realization by being manifested in this world in the form of human states and civilizations. He said that the “actual state is animated by this spirit in its particular affairs–its Wars, Institutions etc.” He continued to say that it “is the concrete spirit of a people that we have to distinctly recognize” and “it takes the lead in all the deeds and tendencies of that people.” (8)

Folkways and Mores

Folkways and Mores were terms used by William Graham Sumner to describe the cultural patterns that are exhibited by a common people and which give them a distinct character. For Sumner, culture’s institutions like marriage, forms and acts of worship, style of government and the like are mores whose cultural traits have been long-established customs. Mores are guiding principles for cultural patterns. These are also understood as the “must-behavior” of a society. Mores serve as habits and traditions and in these we see a noticeable pattern of consistency. (9)

Mainsprings and Patterns of Culture

Ruth Benedict was the originator of the configuration approach to culture. She calls cultural patterns the mainsprings of culture which a people coherently follow. She said that the abnormality of a particular culture is found in the incapacity to conform to socially accepted norms. At the heart of culture is the pattern of life and behavior. In her book, she emphasized “within each culture there come into being characteristic obedience to these purposes, each people further and further consolidates its experience, and in proportion to the urgency of these drives the heterogeneous items of behavior take more and more congruous shape.” (10)


Clifford Geertz speaks of ethos as the moral and aesthetic aspect of culture. For him, this ethos is a cultural pattern which explains the reasons behind any particular behavior and quality of response a people give to certain reality. It is the collective view and reaction to reality. He said that “a people’s ethos is the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood; it is the underlying attitude toward themselves and their world that life reflects.” (11)

 The Chinese in the Philippines (12) – Affirming Their Presence

The Chinese constitute one of the fascinating cultural groups who are actively shaping the society and church in the Philippines today. According to the 2005 statistics of the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission of Taiwan, there are around 1,146,250 ethnic Chinese in the Philippines. In the past five years, they have relatively increased in number and they can all be found in the entire archipelago. The Philippines ranked nine among the nations in the world with an ethnic Chinese population with a growth rate of 62%. The 2005 statistics also showed that outside Mainland China and Taiwan, Indonesia has the most number of ethnic Chinese. Indonesia is followed by Thailand with 7,053,240, Malaysia 6,187,400, United States of America 3,376,031, Singapore 2,684,900, Canada 1,612,173, Peru 1,300,000 and Vietnam 1,263,570. These statistics prove that the influx of Chinese in many countries underwent varied levels of integration. In the history of Chinese migration to countries outside Mainland China, we find traces of successes and failures resulting from the encounter between cultures. (13)

For the Chinese, the Philippines was one of the aspired places before the Spanish occupation. The Negritos as the first settlers of the Philippines are believed to have migrated some 30,000 years ago from Borneo, Sumatra and Malaya. The Malayans became the second group of people who migrated to the Philippines, having a more advanced material culture.

The Chinese migrated to the Philippines as a result of the expansion of the dynasties of China. They also braved to go beyond the Chinese seas for better trade opportunities. Wave after wave of Chinese migrants braved and sailed the turbulent seas just to discover more opportunities in neighboring countries like the Philippines.

In the fourteenth century, Arab traders from Malay and Borneo introduced Islam in the southern islands and extended their influence as far north as Luzon. The first Europeans to visit the Philippines were those in the Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Other Spanish expeditions followed, including one from New Spain under López de Villalobos, who in 1542 named the islands after the Infante Philip, later Philip II.

Today, the migration of Chinese from Mainland China and from other neighboring Asian countries remains to be a prevailing phenomenon. The number of migrants in Southeast Asia has risen dramatically in recent decades and political and economic changes have swept the region. Chinese migration–which includes labor migration–has been a continuing response to economic and peace and order related concerns. Migration is, indeed, a phenomenon in our time. In 2005, for example, some 191 million people or 3% of the world’s population lived outside their country of origin. The magnitude and complexity of international migration make it an important force in development and a high-priority issue for both developing and developed countries. (14)

Migration opens the door toward an encounter between the inflowing and the receiving culture. Reactions are expected to be varied and conflicts are assumed to be imminently part of cultural differences.

First Phase of Inculturation: Sangleys Come to the Philippines

“Sangley” is an archaic word used in the Philippines. It refers to the Chinese engaging in business and trade during the Spanish period. It comes from two Chinese words “chang” which means “frequent” and “lai” which means “coming”. The unending influx of Chinese traders inevitably led Spanish authorities to describe and call them people of “frequent coming”. (15) “Sangley” is also derived from the Chinese word “seng li” which means “business”. They did extremely well in all trades and crafts. Spanish officials relied heavily on Chinese labor to sustain their everyday life. The Sangleys were artists, porters, fishermen, bakers, shoemakers and masons. They were providers of food, retailers and artisans who readily engaged in a host of professions, and charged cheaply for their services.  Yet it has to be noted that the Chinese traders had visited and lived in Manila long before the arrival of the Spanish. The Chinese traders came from Fujian and were part of the larger Chinese maritime trading economy that grew in importance from the Song Dynasty (1127–1276 CE) onwards.

Sangleys: Migration and Trade

The term “Sangley” which was used to describe the Chinese in the Philippines suggests the initial encounter between cultures. Before and during the Spanish period, migration was marked by an endless mixture of struggles and conflicts, peace and joyful relations with both Filipinos and the Spanish government. The wave after wave of migration and trade in the Philippines indicated the ingenuity of the Chinese mind. The Philippines was not only a project for building new homes outside Mainland China but a strategic place for a better economic condition. It provided an opportunity for advancement in trade and commerce.

However, some authors like Victor Purcell said that the Ming Dynasty had been characterized by a tendency toward expansion. It was said that in 1405, Emperor Yung-Lo sent a high officer to Luzon who was to govern the Philippines. On the second year of his reign, the Emperor sent Admiral Cheng Ho to Luzon to establish Chinese sovereignty over the island. Sixty vessels were sent thrice and attempted to dominate the neighboring islands but failed following the death of Yung-Lo and the admiral. (16) Under Yung-lo, China reasserted its claim to universal sovereignty over neighboring states and reestablished the traditional tributary system. The Emperor died at Yü-mu-ch’uan, in southern Jehol, after returning from an expedition against a Mongol tribe, on August 2, 1424, and was succeeded by his son Chu Kao-chih (Emperor Hunghsi, 1424-1425). (17)

It was likewise noted by some historians that another reason for the “frequent coming” of the Chinese is that trade and migration in the Philippines was their escape from the effects of the feudal system in the Mainland. As a result of feudalism, poverty, the lack of opportunities for work, and oppression were rampant. These created among the Chinese the strong will to survive and the determination to fulfill their dreams beyond the shores of China. Due to these problems, migration may be interpreted as defiance to their origins, their homes and their cultural heritage in China. The Chinese believed that they could fulfill their dreams outside the Mainland.

The Chinese who reached the Philippine shores during the Spanish period may be divided into three groups. First, there were Chinese who engaged purely in trade with Filipinos and Spaniards without the intention of building their new homes in the Philippines. Second, there were Chinese who sought to build their new homes permanently in the Philippines as an escape from poverty, conflicts and oppression in the Mainland. Third, there were Chinese who desired to establish their homes temporarily in the Philippines with the intention of returning to the Mainland when peace and order, and good economic opportunities were restored.

Mission to the Sangleys

Chinese migration and trade in the Philippines provided a fertile ground for mission. The religious congregations began to think of expanding their missions to China. When the Spaniards settled in the Philippines in 1565, news of the populous countries in Asia–such as China, Japan, Siam, etc.–began to reach Mexico and Spain. Thinking of the new opportunities for mission, the Dominicans in Mexico saw the need of founding a new Province for the evangelization of the Kingdoms of the East. The work was entrusted to a veteran missionary, Fr. John Chrysostom, who obtained the necessary permits from the Pope, the King and the Master of the Order. The mission toward the Sangleys, the mission in China, did not only remain as a dream. The envisioned Province, to be known as the Holy Rosary Province, became a reality in 1587.

Chinese migration and trade provided opportunities to build amicable relations between the Spaniards and the Sangleys that would lead toward a wider mission in Mainland China. This was thought to be a stepping stone for a new mission strategy for China. In 1631, after at least seven previous attempts that ended in failure, the Holy Rosary Province for the Chinese apostolate succeeded.

Encountering and Affirming a New Culture

The Church in the Philippines through the mission activity of the religious congregations constantly considers the Chinese culture as something new. Migration and trade enabled the Spaniards to have a foretaste of the cultures they would find in the Mainland. Culture is the venue for an encounter between peoples and the Gospel. John Paul II explained that “culture is the vital space within which the human person comes face to face with the Gospel. Just as a culture is the result of the life and activity of a human group, so the persons belonging to that group are shaped to a large extent by the culture in which they live.” (18)

Religious Influences

The Chinese traders and those who migrated were found to be a religious people. The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines in 1521 marked the beginning of Spanish interest in the country. Moreover, it allowed the Spaniards to encounter the Chinese who were practicing various religious traditions. The basic reason for Chinese practices was reciprocity: the mutual exchange of gifts and favors between gods, spirits and its worshippers so that both parties gain from the transaction. (19)

Ancestor veneration

Among the religious traditions or thought systems the Chinese brought into the Philippines, ancestor veneration was most popular. According to ancient law, the highest King of China, also called the Son of Heaven (Tianzi), sacrificed to Heaven (Tian or Shangdi), Earth (Di) and other gods. The religious goal of ancestor veneration is to ensure the ancestors’ continued well-being and positive disposition towards the living and sometimes to ask for special favors or assistance. The social or non-religious function of ancestor veneration is to cultivate kinship values, such as filial piety, family loyalty and continuity of the family lineage.

Ancestor veneration for the Chinese was a sign of a continued act of filial piety to those parents or grandparents or any family member who have died. It has a threefold dimension. First, the Chinese believe that filial piety is not only practiced in this world but it is completed in the world beyond by honoring the dead. Second, it is believed that those who have died have a continual and beneficent interest in the affairs of the living. And third, failure to remember them might bring about bad luck to human affairs in the world. Ancestor veneration is practiced to placate “fear of the dead” and any other forms of uneasiness.


The practice of divination was widespread among the Chinese who ventured to the Philippines for a better life. The word divination comes from the Latin word “divinare” which means “to foresee”. Since the Sangleys were unsure of their fate as they crossed the seas and they had to have insight on the future of their trading enterprise in the Philippines, they consulted the gods. Divination is a widespread practice in Chinese popular religions. (20) It attempts to know the intention of the gods and thereby foretell the future. (21)

Among the many instruments used to know and foresee the future, divination blocks were popular. Dropping the divination blocks reveals the response of the gods regarding their search for luck and good fortune. Julia Ching illustrated that divination blocks are two pieces of wood, rounded on one side and flat on the other, cut into the shape of a crescent moon, mirror images each of the other. When dropped on the floor, the combinations of positions indicate responses from the deity. (22)

Feng-Shui or Geomancy

 Feng-shui is one of the most popular cognitive worldviews of the Chinese who came to the Philippines. The art of placement enabled the Chinese to impress Spaniards and Filipinos with their concept of space and time. It is one of the most practiced and popularized beliefs about the movements of the world. The Chinese viewed the world as full of spirits and hidden powers for good fortune. They believe that spirits control many parts of nature. The rite of feng-shui has to be done to ensure that no spirit or god who will cause bad luck is disturbed.

Literally feng shui means “wind” and “water.” It is connected with making the correct placements–where a building, house, business edifice, temple or grave should be established or erected to ensure peace, luck, and to bring possible prosperity on the site. The Chinese believed that being in harmony with the environment improves fortunes in life. Forces of nature are responsible for prosperity, health and good luck. It is asserted that when one changes environments, he changes life.

Second Phase of Inculturation: Christianization of the Sangleys 

Inculturation includes the process of making the Gospel take root in local cultures, values and mentalities. The Church as the sacrament of the Kingdom of God makes the Gospel message serve as an enriching, purifying force on human cultures. John Paul II reminds us that once the Church “knows and understands these various aspects of culture, then she can begin the dialogue of salvation.” (23)

Evangelizing the Sangleys in the Philippines

When the Spanish fleet reached the Philippines, it did not only encounter Filipinos but also Chinese traders. It was an opportunity for the Spaniards to widen their mission of evangelization. It was also an experience of plurality of cultures and religions, which perhaps they did not experience in Spain. In the sixteenth century, mission was directed outside Europe to what they called the “mission fields.” But times have changed, and now “the mission fields” include Europe and the whole world.


Many Chinese were baptized because of the evangelization efforts of the Friars. They became good Catholics and were dedicated to live and die for the faith. However, historians noted that as Chinese migrants increased and their trade flourished in the Spanish period, the Spanish Government developed a deep-seated suspicion that they would rebel and dominate business. Edicts were issued in 1775 and 1766 demanding them to submit to Spanish and Church authorities, and to pay taxes. One of the ways to escape deportation was to be baptized. Several non-Christian Chinese were expelled from the Philippines as part of an attempt by the Spaniards to increase their control over the revenue of the Galleon Trade. (24)

The periodic deportations, residence restrictions, trade regulations and political suspicions against them provided the Chinese with several motivations to receive baptism. Despite these challenges, the Chinese were good traders and projected a good sense of value. Studies say that many of them became pragmatic. They were baptized in compliance with Spanish regulations so they could further their trading enterprise–silk trade became more attractive during the Spanish period. Likewise, many Chinese embraced Christianity because of the promise of eternal life, and of abundance and safety during their stay in the Philippines. But for those who feared expulsion and restriction edicts, baptism was received only to escape deportation. The Spaniards considered conversion through baptism as a symbol of allegiance to their authority. Although they were interested in gaining profit from the colony, the Spanish also recognized a responsibility to protect the property and personal rights of these new Christians.


The Parian was the center of commerce in Manila during the Spanish occupation. Here one could find Chinese traders in the silk market, small shops of tailors, cobblers, painters, bakers, confectioners, candle makers, silversmiths, apothecaries and other tradesmen. It served as a ghetto outside the walled city of Manila where non-Christian Chinese lived. Only the baptized were mostly allowed inside the walled city to do their business, thus creating a division among the Chinese. As they grew in numbers through waves of migration from China, the Spanish authorities were alarmed of their rapid increase. This prompted the Spaniards to make embracing Christianity a requirement to stay in the Philippines. The move reaped varied reactions and responses. Some embraced Christianity for convenience, others by force, some due to conviction and desire, and others for fear of deportation to China.

Chinese Apostolate

As the number of baptized and non-baptized Chinese in the Philippines grew year after year, the religious congregations and the bishop of Manila thought of establishing an apostolate for the Chinese. Bishop Domingo Salazar, O.P. who was also the first bishop of Manila supported the idea of an apostolate that would focus on the evangelization of the Chinese. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, there were around 66,000 Chinese who practiced their trade and lived in the Philippines.

To facilitate the evangelization of the Chinese, the missionaries had to learn their language and culture. It was quite the opposite of their intention when they colonized the Philippines. They imposed the Spanish language on Filipinos but this was not always the case with the Chinese; the Church and Spanish authorities desired to learn the Chinese language in order to reach them.

 Sangley Rebellion

The Spanish Government’s relations with the Chinese were not amicable all the time. There were pockets of rebellion; Spanish Archbishop Benavides had suspicions that the Chinese had ambitions to control the Philippines. In 1603, it was made known through a rumor that some Chinese were gathering in Binondo and Tondo against government authorities. This was followed by an attack on Spanish residences outside Intramuros, and the attempt to breach the walled city, prompting the Spanish authorities to purge the Chinese. During the Chinese revolt against the Spaniards, 20,000 Chinese were massacred and slaughtered. Leaders of the rebellion were identified and executed. After suppressing the uprising in Manila and its suburbs, Spanish forces pursued those who escaped to the provinces.  After the uprising, a Spanish ambassador was dispatched to Guangzhou to officially communicate the bloody insurrection that occurred in the Philippines in the months of October and November 1603.

Distrust on the part of Spanish authorities and their strict, even harsh treatment of the Chinese eventually caused them to rebel. For example, three officials from China arrived in search for what they called the “mountain of gold”. The Spaniards were afraid that they really came to initiate invasions from China with the aid of the Chinese based in the Philippines. In 1639, many Chinese were forced to work. They were made to pay arbitrary tax beyond their means, having suffered from economic hardships due to poor results of the Galleon Trade. At the time, 30,000 Chinese were killed. (25) Such occasions of atrocities, however, are also opportunities that could lead to Church renewal, an increase in vocations, and a chance to scrutinize the signs of the times.

Mission Beyond the Philippines

The missionary fervor to Christianize the Far East did not diminish after the Spaniards reached the Philippines. In fact, mission further intensified when the Spaniards thought that the presence of the Chinese in the Philippines could be used to evangelize China. Religious congregations began to turn their gaze to a wider mission field where empires and cultures awaited the Gospel.

Religious Congregations

In general, religious orders arrived in the Philippines in the sixteenth century. These religious orders had the mission to Christianize the locals. The Augustinians were the first to arrive in 1565 followed by the Franciscans in 1577, then the Jesuits in 1581, the Dominicans in 1587, the Recollects in 1606, the Paulists in 1862, the Sisters of Charity in 1862, the Capuchins in 1886, and the Benedictines in 1895.

These religious orders became ardent missionary orders for China. They thought of utilizing the presence of the Chinese in the Philippines to learn the language, and understand their mentalities and their view of life. Responsibility for the conversion of the indigenous population to Christianity was assigned to several religious orders: the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Augustinians–known collectively as the Friars, and to the Jesuits. To them, the evangelization of China also became a fertile ground for mission. Evangelizing the Chinese in the Philippines allowed the religious orders to form potential missionaries to their own homeland. To effectively carry out the mission in the Mainland, the Friars needed to build healthy relations with the local Chinese.

Positive Approach to Culture

The Friars began to have a positive approach to the distinct cultural heritage of the Chinese as a way to effectively carry out their mission. They realized that to eradicate these customs, mentalities and cultural traditions meant isolation and would only diminish opportunities for mission. The Church is called to “recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.” (26)

To facilitate the conversion of and catechesis for the Chinese in the Philippines, a parish was erected in 1596 to attend to their spiritual and pastoral needs. The church was founded by the Dominican Friars and it remains as a living sign of how the Chinese have been integrated into Christianity and also into the mainstream of Filipino and Spanish cultures.

Deepest Dimension of Culture

Since the local church of the Philippines is called to proclaim the Gospel, which is knowing the Kingdom of God and His Will, missionaries had to study and learn from the mentalities and worldviews of those whom they will evangelize, like the Chinese. A worldview is one of the cultural domains that reveal the inner drives of a people. It includes how a people view reality. A civilizational worldview contains many symbols. To empathize with such a worldview is to hold on to many “prime symbols”. To understand the Chinese worldviews is to encounter several Chinese “prime symbols”. (27) These are symbols that unify and identify the Chinese people and culture.

The presence of the Chinese in the Philippines provided the missionaries with a glimpse of what lies inside China. The worldviews of the local Chinese foreshadowed the mentalities of those in Mainland China. The Gospel needs to dialogue with and penetrate into these forms of worldviews.

Cognitive aspect of mentality

The cognitive aspect of Chinese mentality includes their philosophy about man and the universe. It refers to the varied concepts about the world and its forces, the veneration of ancestors, the concept of time and space, the philosophy behind the relationship between man and nature, the reasons for traditional family rituals, and religious traditions that shape their identity.

Emotional aspect of mentality

The emotional aspect of mentality is comprised of the values, interests, aspirations, attachments and attitudes that trigger deep emotional reactions of a culture. Emotional worldviews of the Chinese in the Philippines include their feelings and attitudes toward China, other Chinese communities, or other peoples and cultures. A culture like the Chinese in the Philippines has its own set of moral standards, sense of good and evil, family and kinship emotional attachments and attitudes.

Motivational aspect of mentality

This refers to the basic priorities of a culture. It includes their ideals, concerns, hopes, goals and drives in life. The will to survive outside their homeland is seen in their desire for migration. It is a fundamental need that a culture should find its place among other cultures and peoples, and that it be thought of well by the rest of humanity. This refers to the basic motivational drives in a culture to assert identity and distinction.

Third Phase of Inculturation: Chinese Culture Mentality Enriching the Local Church

Inculturation reaches its mature development when the local church and its local cultures contribute the richness of their encounter to the universal Church. Gaudium et Spes refers to the different styles of life and multiple scales of values that arise from the diverse manner of using things, of laboring, of expressing oneself, of practicing religion, of forming customs, of establishing laws and juridic institutions, and of cultivating the sciences, the arts and beauty. (28)

Chinese Mentality as Constantly Renewing

Culture is a product of human nature and is imperfect in itself. It needs to be purified by the Gospel. To ensure this, the local culture has to be in constant contact with the Gospel. The many ramifications of the Chinese-Filipino mentality imply that it has not only good in it but also imperfections. Gaudium et Spes emphasized that the Gospel of Christ constantly renews the life and culture of fallen man, it combats and removes the errors and evils resulting from the permanent allurement of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. (29)

Chinese Mentality as an Element for a Renewing Church

The constant encounter between the Gospel message and the Chinese-Filipino culture elicits newness in their Christian life–a new way of being Church in the Philippines. The Second Vatican Council says that the Church, living in various circumstances in the course of time, has used the discoveries of different cultures so that in her preaching she might spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations, that she might examine it and more deeply understand it, that she might give it better expression in liturgical celebrations and in the varied lives of the community of the faithful. (30)


A significant place where the dialogue between the Gospel and culture is said to be transpiring is the liturgy. Liturgy expresses the faith of an inculturated church (lex orandi lex credendi). The Chinese were known to be strongly attached to their cultural traditions, thus several elements of their culture were integrated to foster a vibrant liturgical celebration. Among these elements is language, which is an important factor of cultural identity. Several parishes in the Philippines have begun using Chinese languages (31) in some parts of their liturgical celebrations. The Eucharistic celebrations are usually said in a variety of languages like Chinese, English, Tagalog or the dialects in the Philippines, depending on the place where these masses are celebrated. For example, the songs, presidential prayers, the canon and readings are said in Chinese while the homily is delivered in English or in any Filipino dialect since the congregation also includes Filipinos and other nationalities.


Another significant cultural element incorporated in the liturgy is the burning of incense as a form of worship. The practice also enhances a strong sense of identity. When Chinese incense is employed during the celebration of the Eucharist, it primarily sets up the tone of the liturgy. It creates an atmosphere of worship and presence of God. Likewise, it also provides a strong sense of belonging and identity among the congregation. Burning incense was a common ritual among the Chinese in their ancestor veneration and prayers.

Indeed, liturgy as an expression of an inculturated faith has become a venue of the Church’s catholicity where a diversity of cultural and liturgical expressions is acknowledged. John Paul II says that in the process of encountering the world’s different cultures, the Church not only transmits her truths and values and renews cultures from within, but she also takes from the various cultures the positive elements already found in them. (32)

Exigency of an Inculturated Priestly Formation

The Church as an evangelized and evangelizing community sends out evangelizers, who as Paul VI said, should respond with concern and commitment. All evangelizers have to be formed according to the Word because “a serious preparation is needed for all workers for evangelization”. (33) Thus these evangelizers should have an inculturated form of priestly orientation. The impetus of this is derived from the challenge of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which says, “And here on our own land is a vast field of mission related to the Filipino-Chinese Apostolate. Less than 20% of the Chinese in the Philippines have had some effective evangelization.” (34)

The vision of having a separate training program for the Chinese in the Philippines began through the initiative of Bishop Domingo Salazar in 1587. The religious orders during the Spanish period began to learn the language, and became accustomed to the culture, worldviews, and mentalities of the Chinese to have access to China. Preserving and protecting culture, customs and traditions are means to find a fertile ground in which the Word could be sown, nurtured and grown. The Gospel needs culture to bring about the presence of the Kingdom of God in this world. Pius XII reminds us that the local church should not “destroy or extinguish whatever its people possess that is naturally good, just or beautiful.” (35)

Chinese Mentality: Prospects for a Renewing Society

The rich encounter between the local church in the Philippines and the culture mentality of the Chinese could be concretely manifested in the transformation of Philippine society. A transformed society is usually built up through a mutually enriching encounter between the Gospel and a people with their particular culture and tradition. The transformation of Philippine society rests not only on Filipinos; it also involves the many cultures and subcultures that comprise this society. The Chinese subculture possesses a variety of elements that can contribute to the betterment of society. The renewal of society is not left solely to the Church hierarchy. The lay, through their authentic cultural expressions that contribute to the good of the people, also play an important part. John Paul II emphasized that the entire Church has the mission to transform society by “infusing the ‘mind of Christ’ into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the secular world in which they live.” (36)

Community of Disciples

While it is true that the renewal of society may begin from just structures, discipline, prudent implementation of laws and the preferential option for the poor, it is also urgent that we build a community of disciples as the springboard towards a renewed society. The Second Plenary Council affirms the potential of the Church in the Philippines as evangelized community. Paul VI agrees that it is a complex process yet the “renewal of humanity” is a priority. As an evangelizing community, the Chinese are expected to be agents of renewal in the society. Paul VI mentioned the direction of evangelization: to be “evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity”. (37)

The Chinese in the Philippines are agents of renewal in Philippine society. The formation of a community of disciples entails the preservation of cultural elements that exhibit the community’s authenticity. Let us be reminded that the authentic values found in cultures and subcultures are seeds of Christ’s presence in them. In Christ, “authentic values of all religious and cultural traditions, such as mercy and submission to the will of God, compassion and rectitude, non-violence and righteousness, filial piety, and harmony with creation find their fullness and realization”. (38)

Community of Hope and Trust

Among the problems that Chinese-Filipinos in the Philippines face today are the rampant cases of kidnapping and extortion that we read about in newspapers and watch on television news. Members of the Chinese community have reacted in various ways. Some left the Philippines to escape from their dreadful ordeal (especially those who became victims of these atrocities). Many local Chinese entered politics, while some abstained from participating in government, institutions and other communitarian activities for fear. Others intensified their affiliation to associations so they could better collaborate with other Chinese in fighting against the escalating cases of kidnappings. By means of these various reactions and solutions to the problems they face, the Chinese speak up, and allow themselves be heard especially by the Philippine Government.

Many Chinese also pin their hopes in God’s providence, which develops their sense of God. One way or another, problems solidify their religious traditions and cultural practices. This is an opportunity for the local church to preserve local cultures and traditions to strengthen its catholicity. Ecclesia in Asia affirms that local cultures like the Chinese communities in the Philippines “need support and care in order to preserve their human dignity and their cultural and religious heritage”. (39)

Great Asian Missionaries

The great missionaries of the past who gave their lives for the glory of God and the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven are hallmarks of the fruitful encounter between the local church and particular cultures. Their lives of faithfulness, sacrifices and even martyrdom are their gifts to God and to His Church. The Church learns from the Asian Martyrs new ways of bearing witness to the Gospel in particular contexts and cultures. John Paul II affirms this, saying “great hosts of Asian martyrs, old and new, never cease to teach the Church in Asia what it means to bear witness to the Lamb in whose blood they have washed their shining robes (cf. Rev 7:14)!”

The Chinese martyrs are examples of what cultures could give to the Church. The purification of cultures is achieved through the blood of the martyrs. Indeed Ecclesia in Asia clarifies that it is martyrdom which reveals to the world the very essence of the Christian message. (40) Martyrdom is one of the highest forms of witnessing the Chinese could give as proof of the relationship between culture and faith. In this part of the world, Asia has already given the Church the richness of culture. Asia has given the Church and the world a great host of these heroes of the faith. (41) One of these is St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the proto-martyr of the Philippines who was a Filipino-Chinese. After being accused of murder, he fled to Japan and met his death by witnessing to the faith, giving his life as a sign of fidelity to the Church and to Christ.

Part of being constantly evangelized involves learning from the martyrs of every age who gave their lives in witness to Christ. Martyrdom reminds the Church that Christ is present and alive in various cultures and traditions. Martyrdom makes the Church feel that she needs to be continually refreshed and renewed, and that she is in a “constant need of being evangelized”. (42)

Older and Younger Generations of Chinese Today

The Chinese living in the Philippines may be divided into two major categories, depending on their level of integration. Older generation Chinese come from China and have lived in the Philippines for many years. They speak the Chinese language fluently and have limited contacts and interactions with Filipinos. They preserve Chinese traditions and practices with the intention of passing these on to the younger generation.

On the other hand, the younger generation is more integrated to Philippine society. These Chinese were born in the Philippines and have no idea of the homelands where their parents and grandparents originally came from. They do not speak the Chinese language fluently and are more Filipino than Chinese in their cultural orientation.

The experience of a pluralistic society like that of the Philippines challenges the local church to be more inclusive and to exercise a certain level of tolerance. For the older generation, the rigid structures of traditional culture are necessary in one’s personal and family life; these cannot be abandoned. The younger generation, on the other hand, regards these as useless obstacles and rejects them in favor of new forms of societal life. (43) The conflict between generations leads to a tragic dilemma: either to preserve traditional beliefs and structures and reject social progress, or to embrace foreign technology and foreign culture, and reject ancestral traditions with their wealth of humanism. (44)


First, in the foregoing pages, it was our task to identify Chinese culture mentality as the locus of the Church’s thrust of inculturation. The Chinese culture mentality is an integral part of culture and it is a vital aspect in the dialogue between the Gospel and culture. The mentality of a people is the inner culture and the psychology of a people. The Gospel has to penetrate and shape it according to God’s standards. Dialogue between the Gospel and culture should be integrative, allowing the local culture to encounter, react, and evaluate.

Second, culture mentality belongs to culture and the deepest part of culture. It cannot exist outside a cultural context. It is the matrix where man lives and responds to realities. It is the creative and integrative component of culture. It is the point of dialogue between the Gospel and culture. If the Gospel has to form and shape culture, it has to be able to dialogue and meet the inner and the deepest aspect of culture. The present situation of Chinese culture in the Philippines, whether evangelized or non-evangelized, is a product of a dialogue between local cultures.

Third, culture mentality is not perfect in itself. It needs to be strengthened, guided, purified and converted. It has to grow and be perfected by the Gospel. Therefore, culture mentality of the Chinese contributes to the being and nature of the Church as missionary. The local church has to proclaim the Gospel to form mentalities according to the mind of Christ.

Finally, inculturation refers to the dialogue between the Gospel and cultures. It makes possible the encounter between culture mentality and the Gospel. It is in the mentality of a people and the Church’s mission of inculturation that we can discover the movement of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is the primary agent of mission and evangelization. Inculturation is not only understood as the insertion of the Gospel into a particular culture, or the transformation of the values of that culture in accord to the Gospel. It also concerns what the culture could share with the Church after it has been evangelized.


 1 John Paul II, Encyclical on the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate, Redemptoris Missio (December 7, 1990), 17.

2 Cf. Louis Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology (New York: Orbis Books, 1988), 223.

3 Cf. Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective (New York: Orbis Books), 64.

4 Cf. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology, 238.

5 Cf. Ibid., 250.

6 Cf. Pitirim Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, vol. 1 (New York: American Book Company, 1937), 55.

7 Cf. Edward Sapir, Culture, Language, and Personality: Selected Essays, David Mandelbaum, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 80-81.

8 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History, translated by J. Sibree (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1956), 50.

9 Cf. William Graham Sumner, Folkways (New York: The New American Library, 1966),  18.

10 Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (New York: The New American Library, 1948), 42.

11 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (London: Fontana Press, 1973), 127.

12 When we speak of Chinese in the Philippines, we mean a multi-subcultural group. “Chinese” may refer to different generations of Chinese, as well as to Chinese people grouped according to their loyalties. Those who belong to the older generation, speak the Chinese language and exhibit traditional Chinese culture in their daily undertakings are usually called “Filipino Chinese”. They are more Chinese than Filipino in terms of their way of life. On the other hand, those who belong to the generation that does not speak the language or exhibit Chinese traditions and culture in their lifestyle are called “Chinese Filipinos”. They are more Filipino in lifestyle and orientation yet have Chinese blood and heritage.

Some socio-anthropological books say that the Chinese in the Philippines may refer to groups and associations with varied loyalties and adherence. There are Chinese who are quite loyal to Mainland China, always thinking of their country of origin. They attached themselves to their roots in the Mainland. They are the Mainland China-centered Chinese. This first group consists of those who belong to the first-generation Chinese in the Philippines. There are also Chinese who are not at home with Mainland China due to the political changes that eventually led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. They instead attached their loyalties to Taiwan. They are the Taiwan-centered Chinese who have strong sympathies with Taiwan. The third and largest group is composed of those who are attached to their current domicile–the Philippines. They do not care about China or Taiwan but they consider the Philippines as their true home. Many of these Chinese were already born here. They are Filipino in lifestyle, speak less Chinese, and subscribe less to Chinese traditions and lifestyle. To facilitate the discussion, we shall use the term Chinese to mean all the Chinese in the Philippines regardless of loyalties and generations.

13 Available from; Internet; accessed July 10, 2010.

14 Available from e1a81f539a86/Migration.aspx; Internet; accessed July 10, 2010.

15 Cf. Jose Vidamor B. Yu, Inculturation of Filipino-Chinese Culture Mentality (Roma: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2000), 82.

16 Cf. Victor Purcell, The Chinese in Southeast Asia (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 506.

17 Available from; Internet; accessed July 10, 2010.

18 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Exhortation on Jesus Christ the Savior and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia, Ecclesia in Asia (November 6, 1999), 21.

19 Cf. Daniel Overmyer, Religions of China: The World as a Living System (New York: Harper-San Francisco, 1986), 69-70.

20 Cf. Julia Ching, Chinese Religions (New York: Orbis Books, 1993), 208.

21 Cf. Annemane de Wall Malefijt, Religion and Culture: An Introduction to Anthropology of Religion (New York: Macmillan Company, 1968), 215.

22 Cf. Ching, Chinese Religions, 208.

23 John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 21.

24 Cf. Peter N. Stearns and William Leonard Langer, eds. The Encyclopedia of World History, 6th edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 388.

25 Cf. Edgar Wickberg, The Chinese in Philippine Life, 1850-1898 (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000), 10-11.

26 Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate (October 28, 1965), 2.

27 Cf. Joseph Brandon Ford, Michael Paul Richard, and Palmer C. Talbutt, Sorokin and Civilization: A Centennial Assessment (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 133.

28 Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (December 7, 1965), 53.

29 Cf. Ibid., 58.

30 Cf. Ibid.

31 Chinese languages here may refer to those that are spoken the most in the Philippines like Hokkien and Mandarin.

32 John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 22.

33 Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World, Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975), 73.

34 Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (Manila: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 1992), 109.

35 Pius XII, Encyclical on Promoting Catholic Missions, Evangelii Praecones (June 2, 1951), 56.

36 John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 22.

37 Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18.

38 John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 14.

39 Ibid., 34.

40 Ibid., 49.

41 Ibid.

42 Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 15.

43 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter on the Development of Peoples, Populorum Progressio (March 26, 1967), no. 10.

44 Ibid.

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