Chapter 12: Hong Kong



Rizal's Hong Kong Business Card




Rizal was convinced that he could accomplish nothing further in Europe. Against his will he had been drawn into a political controversy among the Filipinos. One group was bent upon making him the Filipino leader, while another group rallied around Marcelo H. del Pilar. Friends of Del Pilar were beginning to print the kind of attacks that always appear in political conflicts. Rizal resolved to take himself out of the picture at once. He wrote to Del Pilar:

"I ought not to introduce division in this publication [La Solidaridad]. I prefer to be buried in solitude and isolation, rather than disturb the harmony and peace of its editors. (01) My politics -- if the life I am leading can be called politics -- is to become eclipsed and to leave you as the head of the Filipino politics. I wish to be sure that I may never be regarded as a stumbling block to anybody, even though this involves my own fall." (02)

It had become a fixed principle of this great soul to resolve the clash of conflicting ambitions by sacrificing himself.

He had now lost all faith in the power of any of the Filipinos in Spain to do effective service for the Philippines. He wrote to Manila:

"If our countrymen repose their faith only in us who are here in Europe, they make a great mistake. I do not wish anybody to be deceived . . . . This general credulity that we may be able to aid from these distant lands seems to me to be a great error. The medicine must be applied close to the wound.

"If it had not been for the fact that I did not wish to shorten the lives of my parents, I would have returned to the Philippines, come what might. Those five months when I was there are a living example, a book far better than Noli Me Tangere. The battlefield is in the Philippines; there is where we ought to be found. . . . Would to God my parents were not in danger of being killed, for then you would see me back in our homeland. There is where we ought to aid one another, there is where we ought to suffer together and possibly triumph." (03)

Rizal desired to get away from Europe for still another reason. Persistent rumors reached him that some of the Filipinos in Madrid were getting money from the Philippines by using his name, and then wasting and misappropriating it. (04) Old Graciano Jaena, who had been the founder of La Solidaridad, but had been jockeyed out of his position and left in poverty, wrote to Rizal urging him to help bring about the "downfall of these little patriots who exploit patriotism for their own profit . . . We should swear to prevent, by every means, the triumph of these false apostles of the salvation of the Philippines." (05) Rizal would not then nor at any other time lift a finger against his countrymen, but he could not rest so long as he was entangled with any affair which was in the slightest degree questionable. He must get away!

Hong Kong was clearly the right place to go, at least for the time being, not only because it was near the Philippines, but also because his dear friend Basa was there. Then in Hong Kong, as Jaena wrote, "You will find a group of enthusiastic young men not yet contaminated by these miserable passions that divide us in Europe. Stir up their zeal, direct their ideals into the right road, and you, with our exquisite tastes, will do much good for the Philippines. . . . I have written to them and they will receive you in Hong Kong as their master and guide." (06)

He sailed for Hong Kong on the S. S. Melbourne on October 18, 1891. He was the only Oriental in his class. Most of the others were Germans, for the ship had sailed from Hamburg. One day the wind blew a door open. A woman said in German:

"If this man in front of me were a gentleman he would close the door."

Without a word Rizal rose, closed the door, and resumed his seat. Then he pleasantly opened conversation with them in German, and talked so fluently that they treated him with respectful awe. He was the most cultured and highly educated person on the ship.

With him he carried eight hundred copies of the first edition of El Filibusterismo, hoping that he might be able to introduce them into the Philippines little by little, through ship captains, Chinese, or other travelers. But, if we may believe Retana, "nearly all the copies were confiscated and immediately spoiled. A few 'sons of the land' possessed El Filibusterismo, but because of the severity of Despujol, most of the possessors reduced the book to ashes. The first edition of Rizal's second novel therefore became very rare soon after it was born. Hence it is that a bookseller in Madrid came to ask for a single copy no less than four hundred pesos." (07)

When Rizal reached Hong Kong he opened his office as an oculist. Dr. Lorenzo Marques, a prominent Portuguese physician, admired his skill as a surgeon, and had great affection for him as a man. All of Dr. Lorenzo's eye cases were turned over to the distinguished Filipino, and he soon had a thriving practice. He could have become a successful and renowned practitioner if only this nightmare of his country and his relatives had ceased to torment his nights. But nearly every mail contained news like the following from his brother-in-law Manuel Hidalgo:

Governor General Vallerian P.

("Butcher") Weiler

"I am sending you copies of the official letters and decrees ordering the deporting of twenty-five families from Calamba, so you may realize the critical plight of our town. I am preparing a letter to the Queen Regent (08) which Nancy will also sign. In it I am telling all that [Governor General] Weyler has done against us and how impossible it is for us to get justice. I have told not only about our own family but also about all who were involved in the last deportation from Calamba. If the Queen will not listen we will write to Queen Victoria of England appealing for protection in the name of humanity against the deportation of twenty-five persons from Calamba, including father, Nening, Sisa, Lucia, Paciano, and the rest of us. . . . We are impatiently awaiting our own deportation, perhaps to Jolo. We are not afraid. We avoid, when we can do so, letting them see us, but if they take us, we will go without fear, without anxiety. I am convinced that, come what may, though the very skies fall, all will come out well, because we have done no wrong. Nening feels the same." (09)

Such letters, full of magnificent courage but nursing hopes which Rizal's bitter experience in Europe had taught him were futile, wrung his heart until it bled. He wrote his loved ones:

"My dear parents, brothers, and sisters:

"I am following step by step the bitter Calvary which you are treading. Do not be afraid, for I am working and working. If you would allow me to go there and reunite with you, what joy that would be! Perhaps everything would be different! So just give me your permission and I will come at once. I hope and have assurance that we will come out all right. I have learned of the exile of four of our fellow townsmen to Jolo, and of the return of my brother to Manila. I have learned too, that Nanay, Pangoy, and Trinidad have once more been summoned before the civil government. Paciano, a little patience! Courage!

Eagerly longing to embrace you.
Your son,
Rizal" (10)

"Working and working," that letter had said. And he was making fine progress with a new plan! This was to take his relatives and the three hundred families, who had been dispossessed in Calamba, to Borneo and there to establish a new Filipino colony under the free British flag.


Rizal took a steamer from Hong Kong to Borneo. The British governor of that Island conceded the Filipinos 100,000 acres of land, a beautiful harbor, and a good government for 999 years, free of all charges. (11) Jaena wrote from Barcelona: "I received your postal card which you sent me from Borneo. Congratulations for the idea of founding a country of Filipinos. It will be a base from which must issue later the redemption of our Archipelago. . . . have a piece of land ready for me there, where I can plant sugar cane . . ." (12)


Other friends in Europe were equally excited and could hardly wait to join the expedition. (13)


He began to gather his loved ones about him in Hong Kong in spite of many difficulties. On December 12, 1891, his heart was beating high with new hope as he wrote to his sister Maria:

"Thank God, father, Paciano, and Bestre are here with me already. Father is getting fat and his cheeks are getting red; he is always happy now, walks as well as you do, and is very content here in Hong Kong. They are all very happy to have arrived here.

"If mother is there, kiss her for me, and Pangoy and Trinidad too, and tell them how much I love them. My desire is that we may all be reunited here, and after that, we have hopes of moving to Borneo to found our new colony and to till the soil. Meanwhile take good care of our nephews, brothers, and sisters. Never mind how much they have suffered up to this time, for a new day is approaching.

"Tell mother -- if ever this letter reaches you -- how much I long to see her and operate on her eyes." (14)


At length his mother and sisters Lucia, Pangoy, Josefa, and Trinidad, were able to get out of the Philippines; and they reached Hong Kong after a stormy voyage and much seasickness. (15)


Rizal performed the second operation on the cataracts which had grown in his mother's eyes, and she could now see with both eyes.


He urged the rest of the family to hurry over as soon as possible. Saturnina agreed to come (16) though she named some objections. Spanish was not spoken in Hong Kong and she thought it would be a long, painful process to learn English. Could they do business without knowing the English language? Would the children's diplomas from Hong Kong be good in the Philippines?


And self-confident brother-in-law Manuel de Hidalgo did not like it at all. "This idea about Borneo is no good. Can't we stay in the Philippines, in this lovely country of ours? And besides, what will people say? Why have we made all these sacrifices? Why should we go to a foreign land until we have first exhausted all of our efforts for the welfare of the country which nurtured us from our cradles? Tell me that!" (17) Naively he expected that his letter to the Queen (08) would reform the Philippines!


"Until we have first exhausted all of our efforts! . . ." Manuel had said. This was exactly what Rizal was doing -- exhausting every effort. All efforts were failing excepting this Borneo project and one other plan, which meant probable death. Was conceited Brother-in-law Hidalgo after all right? Perhaps Rizal ought to accept death to make the Philippines safe for his relatives, rather than take them to another country.



Again and again he wrote of going to Manila "to see the Bull close up", but repeated and frantic opposition prevented him. "The committee has a real fit of terror," he wrote, "every time I say I am going from here. I have always believed a man goes into hiding only when he is very much afraid." (18) He was not afraid, and meant to go if there were the slightest hope of his doing any good. Then came an event which was pregnant with destiny. Governor General Weyler departed and a new Governor General named Eulogio Despujol arrived in Manila. (19) Despujol promulgated a fine sounding program of reforms. Was this the opportunity for which Rizal had been praying?


He wrote the Governor General a beautiful letter of congratulations: "You are in a country," he said, "profoundly demoralized and on the eve of falling into a lamentable skepticism, which might drive it into a crisis; and I consider your step as the act of a wise governor and as that of a man of good purpose. . ." Then he offers the Governor General his aid:

"If your Excellency thinks that my poor services may be of value in pointing out what is wrong in our country and in assisting to heal the wound caused by recent injustices, you need only say the word, and I, reposing faith in your word as a gentleman that my liberty as a citizen will be respected, will place myself at once at your command. . . I have done all I ought to do, without ceasing to love the good of my country, to preserve her for Spain by means of a sound policy, based on justice and our common interest.

"Hoping to have the honor of receiving a reply, I am, Your Excellency, with profound respect,


 Your loyal and
faithful servant.
José Rizal (20)

But no reply came from the Governor General. On the contrary, the persecution of Calamba continued unabated. Brother-in-law Leyba wrote: (21) "We have passed the Christmas holidays sadly, with neither dancing nor entertainments, for we have lost all heart for such things. . . Matias Belarmino was seized Christmas night in his house, and because he was ill of malaria, he was held in the Calamba jail until he recovers and can be taken to Manila and exiled to Jolo."


Rizal sent scores of pages of accusations to the Spanish government, including a letter to the Queen (08) herself from his mother. (22) All the comfort he got was this: His former lawyer Lunares Rivas of Madrid felt "deeply about the great troubles that have come upon yourself and your family. . . You have seen enough of the world to know how such things occur without the government knowing about it and without being able to remedy it as quickly and as energetically as they might wish. A thousand considerations of state prevent it, and this is as true in Spain as in England and Holland and all colonizing countries. . . (!)


"I have seen the Foreign Minister about the Calamba matter, and have acquainted him with all the details, telling him of my proposal and the part his ministry has to play in it. My impression is that the ministry is distressed by the injustice with which things have been done, and that he will seek a method of correcting said grievances, without infringing upon the authority and prestige of the Governor General. (!) (23)


Beautiful words these were, but very weak, vague, and empty!


Juan Luna wrote from Paris that on January 30, 1892: "There was held in the Martin Theatre in Paris a protest meeting against the oppression of your relatives and neighbors in Calamba. Persons in authority and of great fame spoke, but I fear that after protests by opposing Spaniards, it will end in protests and no more. The atrocities perpetuated against your family will pass into history, but no justice can be expected from the Mother Country, who almost always puts herself on the side of the men with the sword to maintain her accursed prestige, and never on the side of justice."


These ominous words echoed in his ears: "No justice can be expected from the Mother Country". What paths then lay open for him? Should he take up arms with the revolutionary party which was growing stronger with every new atrocity? As though heaven were answering his question, came a letter from his fine friend Fernando Blumentritt:


"I urge you not to become involved in revolutionary agitations. He who enters a revolution ought to be able to have at least the probability of success, if he does not wish to charge his conscience with the shedding of useless blood. Always it has proven true that when a country rose against another which dominated her, a colony against the mother country, the revolution has failed to triumph by its own strength. The American Union became free because France, Spain, and Holland joined her. The Spanish Republics [led by Simón Bolivar and others all Latin American Republics, save Cuba and Puerto Rico had declared their independence from Spain by 1825] achieved their liberty because there was a civil war in the home country [Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808] and because North America distributed arms and money to them. The Greeks attained their freedom [from the Ottoman Empire] because the English, French, and Russians aided them. . . If today an insurrection is undertaken in the Philippines, it will end in tragedy, because of your situation in the Islands; standing alone and without a navy there is no probability of your success. Besides the insurgents do not have ammunition for more than five months. I may add that there are too many among the Filipinos who believe in the Friars. A revolution will only give glory to the dead and increase the oppression of the tyrants." (24)


Whether or not Rizal was an absolute pacifist is a fit subject for debate. That he fixed his hopes upon the education of his own country and of Spain until the very last, is certain. He agreed with Blumentritt that insurrection promised only suicide to the Filipinos.





His Borneo project still remained. It alone promised to give his relatives and neighbors relief. Besides, Borneo would be an admirable location from which to pursue the process of education which he believed the Philippines needed most.


Meanwhile in Manila Governor General Despujol fulfilled some of his liberal promises. Thirteen of those who had been deported from Calamba to Jolo were pardoned and were returned from exile. Now was the time, if ever, for Rizal to make the effort in behalf of Borneo. Brother-in-law S. Ubaldo worked strenuously though secretly in Manila to find money for the new colony. Relatives and friends contributed money, jewels, and diamonds for the expedition. People from adjoining provinces, where oppression was as bad as in Laguna, eagerly sought for information. (25) The next step necessary was to secure permission from the government for the colonists to go. After waiting three months for a reply to his first letter to the Governor General and receiving no reply, Rizal wrote a second letter (March 21, 1892) and give it to a sea captain who promised to deliver the letter in person to Governor General Despujol. (26) The letter said: (27)

"Most Excellent Señor:


"Late last year I had the honor to write to Your Excellency offering my poor services; various persons had assured me that Your Excellency, true to your habits of courtesy, would see fit to answer me; and since, up to this moment, I have not received a letter from you, I have to assume that mine must have gone astray.

"The purpose of this letter is not to insist upon my offer. Your Excellency, since you took over the reigns of government, has known how to gain the sympathy of all and to renew the wavering confidence of the country so successfully that one might expect that, if God preserves your life, in three years the Filipinos will have peace and tranquility. The country is very easy to govern; with a little love it forgets at once its past grievances: And your Excellency will assuredly know how to strengthen the love for Spain, so that later, when evil years come, they will not need a fleet nor fortifications, nor a force from Spain; it will be enough for the country to be in harmony with Your Excellency, and as the saying goes, the Filipino governors will be like sardines in a can; lying in alternate files.

"As the thought of my whole life has been the love of my country and its moral and material development, and as now it seems to me that this development is beginning very well under Your Excellency's government, I deem it to be my duty not only to honor your government myself, but also to encourage the allegiance of all the Filipinos to Spain.

"In my previous letter I told you that public opinion in the Philippines would place me at the head of the progressive movement. . . Some regard me as an agitator, and to a certain point they are right, for I have agitated much for the peaceful improvement of people and laws. Your Excellency will perhaps share this view, for it is not always easy to resist the environment in which one lives; I will not seek to change your view.

"Only this: I desire the welfare of my country, and wish to make sure so far as it depends upon me that you will be able to govern it with all tranquility. With this in view, I plan to found a colony in North Borneo, on land which that country has offered me and where there are already Filipinos. If those who are able to make my country happy believe that my presence and that of my friends and relatives are prejudicial to the tranquility of the Philippines, (inasmuch as they are obliged always to resort to violent and often unjust means, such as deportation and dispassion), it is not improper for us who are permanently exiled, to accept the offer of the English state. In this matter I ask that Your Excellency will grant us the necessary permission to change our nationality, taking with us the little goods which our many troubles have left to us, and that you will endorse the emigration of all who have incurred the dislike of more or less powerful persons. . . . Then nobody will stain his conscience with unjust dispossessions, or will he be obliged to apply severe punishment; the country will have less cause to murmur, and the government will be able to say to the discontented: 'The doors of the country are always open'.

"Nothing should prevent your subjects from seeking elsewhere what they cannot find in their own country. China and Japan, which have been most despotic lands, now grant ample freedom to their inhabitants in this matter.

"We only beg to live and not disturb the tranquility of the Government. If Your Excellency grants us this permission, (as I doubt not you must do, . . .) I will come to the Philippines to greet Your Excellency and to express my gratitude, as well as to collect our few possessions and to take my friends and relatives away with me.

"In the hope that you will not deny me the courtesy of a reply, I give sincere prayers to God to save Your Excellency's life, for the honor of Spain and for the good of the Philippines.

"I am with all respect, Your Excellency's attentive and faithful servant.

José Rizal"

     The Governor General did not grant him "the courtesy of a reply" in writing, but sent word by the Consul General in Hong Kong "that seeing how the Philippines lacked labor, it was not very patriotic to go off and cultivate a foreign soil, and hence we cannot favor that project, but we added that every Filipino was free, in any part of the Archipelago he chose, to contribute to the prosperity of the country, so long as he obeyed the laws." Rizal decided to go to Manila and see what could be done.


He was whipped into quick action by a biting article written by Lete in Madrid, the most caustic attack that had ever appeared in La Solidaridad. Because José had stopped contributing articles for that paper, and because he would not help the revolutionary party, he was accused of settling down comfortably in Hong Kong and abandoning his country's cause. He had kept his plans as secretly as possible because he knew he was being watched more closely than any other Filipino, and this secrecy exposed him to the allegation of doing nothing. The attack called him egotistical, cowardly, and weak, and said he dreamed he could win his country's redemption with pious words. A man with Rizal's keen sense of honor would find this intolerable. To Del Pilar, as editor of La Solidaridad, he wrote a vigorous protest, but ended by saying.

"Who knows, however, whether after all it is not for the best? It has shaken me awake, and after long silence I enter the field anew. Again I assure you, though, that I enter the field without taking arms against you or any other Filipino. I am going to promote the Propaganda again and strengthen the League." (28)


Rizal made his preparations to leave for Manila in spite of the frantic opposition of friends and relatives. "Nearly everybody opposes your coming and I am of the same opinion," wrote Antonio Lopez. (29) When his sister Trinidad learned of it she became hysterical. "She cried and begged me to advise you not to return, for you would be killed." (30)


Yes. . . probably killed . . . but what could he do to lift their cause out of petty politics to a pure selfless devotion except to offer himself, their leader, a willing sacrifice? What could shock Spain like the news that he had died without malice or fear?


On June 20, 1892, Rizal wrote two beautiful letters packed with fate, one to his relatives and friends, the other to his countrymen. He sealed them and, on the envelope of each wrote: "To be opened after my death." (31) These letters he left with his friend Dr. Lorenzo Marques of Macao.


In all the long pages of history, there is scarcely a parallel for the two letters which follow: (32)


"Parents, Brother, Sisters, and Friends,

"The love which I have always professed for you was what dictated this step, which the future alone will be able to say was or was not wise. Destiny judges acts by their consequences; but whether these be favorable or unfavorable, it will always be said that my duty has commanded me, and if I perish in obeying it, it will not matter.

"I know that you have had to suffer much, but I do not regret what I have done, and if now I had to commence again I would do the same as I have done, because it was my duty. I am going willingly to expose myself to danger, not as an expiation for my faults (for in this matter I do not think I have committed any) but to crown my work and to attest with my example what I have always preached.

"A man ought to die for his duty and his convictions. I hold to all the ideas which I have published concerning the state and future of my country, and I shall die willingly for her, and even more willingly for to procure justice and tranquility for you all.

"I risk my life with gladness to save so many innocent, so many nephews and nieces, so many children who suffer for me.

"What am I? A single man, nearly without a family, and sufficiently disillusioned about life. I have been deceived many times, while the future which lies before me is dark, and would be darker if it were not illumined by the light, the dawn of my country. Meanwhile, there are many persons who, full of hopes and dreams, may perhaps be wholly happy when I am dead; for I hope my enemies will be satisfied and will no longer persecute so many innocent. Their hatred with respect to me is justifiable to a certain point, but not with respect to my parents and relatives.

"If fortune should go against me, they will all know that I die happy, thinking that with my death I have secured for them the end of all their misery. They will then be able to return to our country and be happy in it.

"Until the last instant of my life I will be thinking of you and will be hoping that you may have all good fortune and happiness.

José Rizal"


The second letter was addressed:

"To the Filipinos:

"The step which I have taken or which I am about to take is very hazardous, no doubt, and I need not say that I have thought much about it. I know that almost everybody is against it; but I know also that almost nobody knows what is going on in my heart. I cannot live knowing that many are suffering unjust persecutions on my account; I cannot live seeing my brother, sisters, and their numerous families pursued like criminals; I prefer to face death, and I gladly give my life to free so many innocents from such unjust persecution. I know that at present, the future of my country to some extent gravitates about me; that if I die, many will exult, and that therefore many are longing for my destruction. But what shall I do? I have duties to my conscience above all, I have obligations to the families which suffer, to my old parents, whose sighs pierce to my heart; I know that I alone, even with my death, am able to make them happy, permitting them to return to their native land and to the tranquility of their home. I have only my parents, but my country has many sons beside myself who are able to take my place and are already taking my place successfully.

"I desire, furthermore, to let those who deny our patriotism, see that we know how to die for our duty and for our convictions. "What matters death if one dies for what he loves, for his motherland, and the beings he adores?

"If I supposed that I was the only fulcrum for the policy of the Philippines, and if I were convinced that my fellow countrymen would utilize my services, perhaps I should hesitate to take this step; but there are still others who can, with advantage, take my place.

"I have always loved my poor motherland, and am sure I shall love her to the last moment, even though perhaps men are unjust to me; and my future, my life, my joys, all have been sacrificed for my love of her. Whatever my fate may be, I shall die blessing her and longing for the dawn of her redemption.

"Publish these letters after my death.

José Rizal"


(01) Epistolario Rizalino, 5 vols. Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1930-1938, v. 3, p. 242.
(02) Ibid., v. 3, p. 242.
(03) Ibid., v. 3, p. 251.
(04) Ibid., v. 3, p. 226.
(05) Ibid., v. 3, p. 252.
(06) Ibid.
(07) Retana's Prologue to El Filibusterismo, XXIX
(08) Queen Maria Christiana (1858-1929). An Austrian archduchess who married King Alfonso of Spain in 1879. After his death and at this time she was regent (1886-1902) for his posthumous son, Alfonso XIII. She was reluctant to take part in political affairs.
(09) Epistolario Rizalino, op. cit. v. 3, p. 261.
(10) Ibid., v. 3, p. 263.
(11) Ibid., v. 3, pp. 336, 342.
(12) Ibid., v. 3, p. 342.
(13) Ibid., v. 3, pp. 286, 287, 294.
(14) Ibid., v. 3, p. 267.
(15) Ibid., v. 3, p. 272, 274.
(16) Ibid., v. 3, pp. 297, 308.
(17) Ibid., v. 3, p. 268.
(18) Ibid., v. 3, p. 298.
(19) Ibid., v. 3, p. 262.
(20) Ibid., v. 3, p. 270.
(21) Ibid., v. 3, p. 275.
(22) Ibid., v. 3, p. 268.
(23) Ibid., v. 3, p. 282.
(24) Ibid., v. 2, p. 291.
(25) Ibid., v. 3, p. 313.
(26) Ibid., v. 3, p. 330.
(27) Ibid., v. 3, pp. 305, 306.
(28) Ibid., v. 3, p. 336.
(29) Ibid., v. 3, p. 332.
(30) Ibid., v. 3, p. 317.
(31) Retana's Prologue to El Filibusterismo, op. cit. XXIV.
(32) Epistolario Rizalino, op. cit. v. 3, p. 346.


  í Click Here  æ

Write your Webmaster:
The Life and of Dr. José Rizal
Dr. Robert L. Yoder