Seminar: Spanish Manila: A Trans-Pacific Maritime Enterprise and America’s First Chinatown


It is commonly thought that meaningful contact between Asia and America did not begin until the 19th century, with the massive arrival of Chinese laborers for gold mining and railroad construction in California.  Before that, however, the China trade between New England merchants and Canton merchants had thrived since the 18th century, before and after the American Revolution.  But well before that, if we think of “America” hemispherically as “the Americas,” then we must go back to the mid-16th century to locate the beginning of sustained contact between Asia and America, in this case, between Manila on Luzon island in Las Filipinas and Acapulco on the Pacific coast of Mexico, then called New Spain.  From 1565 to 1815, for 250 years, one to three galleon ships made the round trip trans-Pacific voyage without fail, carrying American silver (mined in Mexico and Peru) to Manila.  There, the largely Hokkien traders and settlers in Manila’s Chinatown, called the Parián, acted as indispensable intermediaries in the trade of American silver for Chinese silk, porcelain, lacquer, ivory carvings, as well as spices and many other precious commodities from the larger Indian Ocean and Nanyang world.  Chinese and other Asian goods were also trans-shipped from Mexico across the Atlantic to Spain and Europe.   Without the critical role played by the Chinese in Manila, this first truly global trading system could not have happened.  Because Spanish Manila was an extension of Mexico in the Americas, should we not consider the Parián in Manila as “America’s First Chinatown?”


Evelyn Hu-DeHart is Professor of History, American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University, USA.  During AY 2014-15, she is Visiting Professor in the History Programme of HSS.  She received her B.A. from Stanford University and her PhD in Latin American and Caribbean history from the University of Texas at Austin.  She has written and edited more than 10 books and over 60 articles, in English, Spanish and Chinese, on three main topics: Indigenous peoples of the US-Mexico borderlands; the Chinese and other Asian diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean; race and ethnicity in the Americas. Her most recent publication is on Latino politics in the U.S., and she has a forthcoming translation of collected works in Chinese from Zhejiang U. Press.  While at NTU, she is interested in sharing research interests and scholarship with scholars in Singapore and the rest of Asia; most of all, she hopes to learn about new methods and perspectives, and to delve into new historical archives and materials.  At Brown, she is a founder and co-director of the long-term research project on “Asia-Pacific in the Making of the Americas,” and with her alma mater Stanford University, she is a founder and principal investigator of the Chinese Railroad Workers of North American Project.  Both research projects involve international collaborators from Asia and Latin America, and include strong Public Humanities as well as Digital Humanities components. Please check out our websites: and

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 1 April 2016.


Apr 04 2016


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2