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Vagrants and outcasts: Chinese labouring classes, criminality, and the state in the Philippines, 1831-1898

Galang, Jely Agamao (2019) Vagrants and outcasts: Chinese labouring classes, criminality, and the state in the Philippines, 1831-1898. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines the lives and circumstance of working class Chinese in the nineteenth-century Philippines, particularly focusing on vagrants and outcasts, whom the colonial state considered “dangerous” to the colony’s financial stability and political security. It investigates how these unemployed and marginally-employed individuals responded to various political and socio-economic developments that occurred between 1831, when the first general Chinese census occurred, and, 1898, the end of Spanish rule. Their collective biography, reconstructed from more than 5,000 criminal cases reveals how particular state policies contributed to their precarious condition. Their everyday lives, on the other hand, also convey how these “people without history” adapted to their changing material environment, and resisted certain colonial measures related to registration, taxation, and migration. Equally important in understanding their struggle for survival were the leaders, institutions, and socio-economic networks within their community.

This dissertation comprises two parts. The first part explores various transitions and transformations in the nineteenth century that directly affected the Philippine Chinese. It discusses the commercialization of agriculture, the state’s need for a reliable labour supply, the expansion of state bureaucracy, the liberalization of Chinese immigration, the influx of Chinese migrants, and their residence patterns in various areas of the archipelago. It then interrogates how these changes created a vibrant economy for the Chinese, with the lives of cargadores (porters/stevedores) in Manila, and miners in Northern Luzon serving as case studies. The second part deals with the actors, institutions, and processes involved in the social construction and “emergence” of “undesirable Chinese” – vagrants, insolvents, beggars, pickpockets, drunkards, idlers, and those deemed “suspicious” - by analysing particular colonial measures imposed upon the Chinese. It examines how the government utilized the judicial apparatus, which included the law, police, court system, and forms of discipline and punishment to define, control, and sentence these offenders. At the same time, it stresses both the overt and covert strategies of these “criminals” to use the judicial system to their best advantage.

Using previously unexplored and underutilized archival source materials about this particular sub-stratum of the Chinese community, the thesis offers a new perspective on these individuals, whose lives are rarely revealed in the historical narrative. It also engages in wider debates concerning how vast populations of social outcasts in the past (as well as in the present) were “created” and defined, ostracized, criminalized, and subsequently punished by those in authority because of their precarious condition of unemployment, material deprivation, and sinking status.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Global Studies
Supervisor(s): Warren, James and Subrahmanyan, Arjun
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