Recently there was talk within the Chinese community in the Philippines about erecting a bronze statue of Jose Rizal, the “founding father” of the modern Philippines, in Hong Kong in order to enhance the bonds of friendship between the two places.
Not too many people in Hong Kong may be aware that the city’s bond with the Philippines dates way back to the 19th century, when that country was still under Spanish rule.
An ethnic Chinese by descent, Jose Rizal sought refuge in Hong Kong in 1888 after he had published his famous anti-colonial work “Noli me Tangere”, loosely translated into “Don’t touch me” in English, and was blacklisted by the Spanish authorities.
It was in Hong Kong, a global hub for revolutionaries and anti-colonial activists from around the world in those days, where Rizal met Jose Ma. Basa, another key figure in the 19th century independence movement of the Philippines and who, too, had to flee the country to escape persecution by the Spaniards.
Suffice it to say that Hong Kong in the late 19th century was the de facto home front for the Filipino independence movement and a place of political sanctuary for its leaders.
During his stay in Hong Kong, Rizal made a living by running an eye clinic on the Hong Kong Island. He also drafted the constitution of the La Liga Filipina (the Philippine League in English), inspiring the revolutionary group that would later spearhead the country’s bid for independence against Spain.
In 1892, Rizal returned to the Philippines from Hong Kong to advance his pro-independence cause, only to be arrested by the Spanish authorities after a failed uprising in August and later executed.
After Rizal’s death, more and more key Filipino revolutionary figures fled to Hong Kong to coordinate their efforts at freeing their country from colonial rule. The list included Emilio Aguinaldo, a general and key insurgent leader who sought refuge in the city in 1898.
After the Philippines was ceded to the United States by Spain in the wake of the Spanish American War in 1899, Aguinaldo once again returned to Hong Kong and raised funds to support his insurgency campaign back home, this time against the Americans.
More importantly, Jose Rizal’s heroic legend inspired a lot of Chinese revolutionaries in those days, including Liang Qichao.
In fact Aguinaldo later became a friend of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who, at that time, was in exile in Japan preparing to overthrow the Qing dynasty. Dr. Sun later became the founding father of the Republic of China.
Now, coming back to the issue of a Rizal statue in Hong Kong, it is a sensitive issue despite the close ties between the Filipino founding fathers and Hong Kong.
Pro-establishment figures here may not view the idea favorably given that Hong Kong has in recent years witnessed a rise in separatist sentiment in the city.
Hence, I believe it is rather unlikely that the statue proposal would lead to anything concrete on the ground.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 7
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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