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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making the Boxer Codex : sixteenth-century book cultures and Sino-Hispanic interactions in the Philippines Yan, Niping


Following the establishment of the trans-Pacific trading network in the Philippines in 1571, the islands emerged as a vibrant hub for commercial, social, and cultural interactions between the Chinese and Spaniards for over four centuries. This dissertation delves into the Sino-Hispanic cultural interactions in the late sixteenth-century Philippines, utilizing the creation of the Boxer Codex (c. 1590s) as its primary source. As a large-scale Spanish project displaying Asian ethnography, geography, and history, the Boxer Codex is essentially a product of colonial knowledge creation. However, more than half of its content, particularly illustrations, is devoted to China. In addition, Chinese individuals in the Philippines played a significant role in the codex’s production, serving as informants, translators, and illustrators. This dissertation examines the textual and visual details found in the Boxer Codex to illuminate the intellectual backgrounds of the Spanish and Chinese individuals involved in its creation, as well as the interactions between their distinct literary practices, political worldviews, and cultural beliefs. The dissertation is structured into two parts. The first part situates the Spanish codex within the broader context of sixteenth-century book cultures. Chapter 2 traces the arrival of European prints in the Spanish colony and the influence of European book decoration art on Chinese artisans. Chapter 3 connects Ming reading culture to knowledge production in the Philippines. Chapter 4 investigates how the interactions between European and Chinese book cultures in the Philippines enabled the construction of the “Chinese Bestiary” in the codex. The second part shifts its focus to the tensions. Chapters 5 and 6 delve into the representation of the “Other” and the Sangley couple, respectively. Chapter 7 questions the omission of the patron goddess of Chinese maritime communities in the codex’s chapter on “Chinese Deities.” In all, this dissertation argues that the sixteenth-century book reading and print cultures of both China and Europe, along with local tensions in the Philippines during the 1590s, impacted the decisions and actions of the Spanish and Chinese participants in the creation of the Boxer Codex, consequently shaping the knowledge the Spanish codex presented.

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