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Ambition and Identity: Chinese Merchant Elites in Colonial Manila, 1880–1916
320pp. March 2004
Ambition and Identity: Chinese Merchant Elites in Colonial Manila, 1880–1916
Author: Wilson, Andrew R.;
What binds overseas Chinese communities together? Traditionally scholars have stressed the interplay of external factors (discrimination, local hostility) and internal forces (shared language, native-place ties, family) to account for the cohesion and "Chineseness" of these overseas groups. Andrew Wilson challenges this Manichean explanation of identity by introducing a third factor: the ambitions of the Chinese merchant elite, which played an equal, if not greater, role in the formation of ethnic identity among the Chinese in colonial Manila.

Drawing on Chinese, Spanish, and American sources and applying a broad range of historiographical approaches, this volume dissects the structures of authority and identity within Manila’s Chinese community over a period of dramatic socioeconomic change and political upheaval. It reveals the ways in which wealthy Chinese merchants dealt in not only goods and services, but also political influence and the movement of human talent from China to the Philippines. Their influence and status extended across the physical and political divide between China and the Philippines, from the villages of southern China to the streets of Manila, making them a truly transnational elite. Control of community institutions and especially migration networks accounts for the cohesiveness of Manila’s Chinese enclave, argues Wilson, and the most successful members of the elite self-consciously chose to identify themselves and their protégés as Chinese.

illus., maps

"A must-read for anyone interested in the study of the Chinese diaspora" —China Review International, Spring 2005

"I thought that reviewing this book might be a duty ... It turned out to be a pleasure and a source of enlightenment. The ‘liminal virtuosity’ of this ‘transnational’ elite—tied both to the Philippines and to its home province—is particularly interesting when ‘globalization’ has brought more remote Chinese communities in closer touch with the homeland and when they, too, can be ‘here and there’. It has been analysed with an appropriate virtuosity." —International History Review, September 2005

"This book contains a great deal of fascinating narrative history about the Chinese merchants in Manila, and its new approaches to theory are a valuable contribution to historical insight." —American Historical Review, April 2005

"Andrew Wilson’s perspectives and interpretations are original and much needed.... This book will significantly enrich both the fields of Philippine history and Chinese diaspora studies." —Edgar Wickberg, professor emeritus, University of British Columbia

Author: Wilson, Andrew R.;
Andrew R. Wilson is associate professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, where he lectures on military history and strategic theory.
Read the introduction (PDF).