In 1990 the approximately 600,000 ethnic Chinese made up less than 1 percent of the population. Because Manila is close to Taiwan and the mainland of China, the Philippines has for centuries attracted both Chinese traders and semipermanent residents. The Chinese have been viewed as a source of cheap labor and of capital and business enterprise. Government policy toward the Chinese has been inconsistent. Spanish, American, and Filipino regimes alternately welcomed and restricted the entry and activities of the ChineseChinese and Chinese Mestizos , ch. 1) -->. Most early Chinese migrants were male, resulting in a sex ratio, at one time, as high as 113 to 1, although in the 1990s it was more nearly equal, reflecting a population based more on natural increase than on immigration.
There has been a good deal of intermarriage between the Chinese and lowland Christians, although the exact amount is impossible to determine. Although many prominent Filipinos, including José Rizal, President Corazon Aquino, and Cardinal Jaime Sin have mixed Chinese ancestry, intermarriage has not necessarily led to ethnic understanding. Mestizos (see Glossary) -->, over a period of years, tended to deprecate their Chinese ancestry and to identify as Filipino. The Chinese tended to regard their culture as superior and sought to maintain it by establishing a separate school system in which about half the curriculum consisted of Chinese literature, history, and language.
Intermarriage and changing governmental policies made it difficult to define who was Chinese. The popular usage of "Chinese" included Chinese aliens, both legal and illegal, as well as those of Chinese ancestry who had become citizens. "Ethnic Chinese" was another term often used but hard to define. Mestizos could be considered either Chinese or Filipino, depending on the group with which they associated to the greatest extent.
Research indicates that Chinese were one of the least accepted ethnic groups. The common Filipino perception of the Chinese was of rich businessmen backed by Chinese cartels who stamped out competition from other groups. There was, however, a sizable Chinese working class in the Philippines, and there was a sharp gap between rich and poor Chinese.