Globalizing Hate Power and Prejudice
The inequalities of the free market pit a poor, frustrated majority against a rich “outsider” minority. Add democracy, and the result is often retaliation, violence, and even mass slaughter.
By Amy Chua
Amy Chua is professor of Law at Yale University and author of the New York Times bestseller World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (Doubleday, 2003), from which this article is adapted.
One beautiful blue morning in 1994, my mother phoned me from California. In a hushed voice, she told me that my Aunt Leona, my father’s twin sister, had been murdered in her home in the Philippines, her throat slit by her chauffeur. My mother broke the news in our native Hokkien Chinese dialect. But “murder” she said in English, as if to wall off the act from the family through language.
|Angry Indonesian mobs burn cars and Chinese-owned shops as they plundered Jakarta in anti-Chinese riots, May 1998. © AFP / Choo Youn-Kong|
The murder of a relative is horrible for anyone, anywhere. My father’s grief was impenetrable; to this day, he has not broken his silence on the subject. For the rest of the family, though, there was added disgrace. For traditional Chinese, luck is a moral attribute, and a lucky person would never be murdered. Like having a birth defect, or marrying a non-Chinese, being murdered is shameful.
My three younger sisters and I were very fond of Aunt Leona, who was petite and quirky and had never married. Like many wealthy Filipino Chinese, she had all kinds of bank accounts in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Chicago. She visited us in the United States regularly. She and my father — Leona and Leon — were close, as only twins can be. Having no children of her own, she doted on her nieces and showered us with trinkets. As we grew older, the trinkets became treasures. On my tenth birthday, she gave me ten small diamonds, wrapped in toilet paper. My aunt loved diamonds and bought them up by the dozen, concealing them in empty Elizabeth Arden face moisturizer jars, some right on her bathroom shelf. She liked accumulating things. When we ate at McDonalds, she stuffed her Gucci purse with free ketchups.
According to the police report, my Aunt Leona, “a 58-year-old single woman,” was killed in her living room with “a butcher’s knife” at approximately 8 p.m. Two of her maids who were questioned confessed that Nilo Abique, my aunt’s chauffeur, had planned and executed the murder with their knowledge and assistance.
“A few hours before the actual killing, respondent was seen sharpening the knife allegedly used in the crime.” After the killing, “respondent [Abique] joined the two witnesses and told them that their employer was dead. At that time, he was wearing a pair of bloodied white gloves and was still holding a knife, also with traces of blood.” But Abique, the report went on to say, had “disappeared” with the warrant for his arrest outstanding. The two maids were released.
After the funeral, I asked one of my uncles whether there had been any further developments in the murder investigation. He replied tersely that the killer had not been found. His wife explained that the Manila police had essentially closed the case. Why were they not more shocked that my aunt had been killed by people who worked for her, lived with her? Or that the maids had been released? When I pressed my uncle, he was brusque. “That’s the way things are here,” he said. “This is the Philippines — not America.”
My uncle was not simply being callous. As it turns out, my aunt’s death is part of a common pattern. Hundreds of Chinese in the Philippines are kidnapped every year, almost invariably by ethnic Filipinos. Many victims, often children, are brutally murdered, even after ransom is paid. Other Chinese, like my aunt, are killed without a kidnapping, usually in connection with a robbery.
Nor is it unusual that my aunt’s killer was never apprehended. Police in the Philippines, all poor ethnic Filipino themselves, are notoriously unmotivated in these cases. Asked by a Western journalist why it is so frequently the Chinese who are targeted, one grinning Filipino policeman explained, “They have more money.”
My family is part of the Philippines’ tiny but entrepreneurial, economically powerful Chinese minority. Just 1 percent of the population, Chinese Filipinos control as much as 60 percent of the private economy, including the country’s four major airlines and almost all its banks, hotels, shopping malls, and conglomerates. My own relatives in Manila, who run a plastics conglomerate, are only “third-tier” Chinese tycoons. Still, they own swaths of prime real estate and several vacation homes. They also have safe deposit boxes full of gold bars, each the size of a Snickers bar. My Aunt Leona FedExed me a similar bar as a law school graduation present.
Since my aunt’s murder, one childhood memory keeps haunting me. I was eight, visiting from the United States, and staying at my family’s splendid hacienda-style house in Manila. It was before dawn, still dark when I went to the kitchen for a drink. But I must have gone down an extra flight of stairs because I literally stumbled onto six male bodies.
I had found the male servants’ quarters. My family’s house-boys, gardeners, and chauffeurs — I sometimes imagine that Nilo Abique was among them — were sleeping on mats on a dirt floor. The place stank of sweat and urine. I was horrified.
Later that day, I mentioned the incident to my Aunt Leona, who laughed affectionately and explained that the servants — there were perhaps 20 living on the premises, all ethnic Filipino — were fortunate to be working for our family. If not for their positions, they would be living among rats and open sewers, without even a roof over their heads. A Filipino maid then walked in with a bowl of food for my aunt’s Pekingese dog. The Filipinos, my aunt continued — in Chinese, but not caring whether the maid understood — were lazy and unintelligent, and didn’t really want to do much else. If they didn’t like working for us, they were free to leave any time. After all, they were employees, not slaves.
According to the World Bank, UNICEF, and official statistics of the Philippines, nearly two-thirds of the Philippines’ 80 million ethnic Filipinos live on less than $2 a day, 40 percent spend their entire lives in temporary shelters, and 70 percent of all rural Filipinos own no land. Almost a third have no access to sanitation.
But that is not the worst of it. Poverty alone never is. Poverty by itself does not make people kill. To poverty must be added indignity, hopelessness, and grievance.
In the Philippines, millions of ethnic Filipinos work for Chinese; almost no Chinese work for Filipinos. The Chinese dominate industry and commerce at every level of society. Global markets intensify this dominance: When foreign investors do business in the Philippines, they deal almost exclusively with Chinese. Apart from a handful of corrupt politicians and a few aristocratic Spanish mestizo families, all of the Philippines’ billionaires are Chinese. By contrast, all menial jobs in the Philippines are filled by Filipinos. All peasants, domestic servants, and squatters are Filipinos. Outside Manila, thousands of ethnic Filipinos lived on or around the Payatas garbage dump: a 12-block-wide mountain of fermenting refuse known as The Promised Land. By scavenging through rotting food and animal carcasses, squatters eked out a living. In July 2000, as a result of accumulating methane gas, the garbage mountain imploded and collapsed, smothering more than 100 people, many of them young children.
When I asked an uncle about the Payatas explosion, he was annoyed. “Why does everyone want to talk about that? It’s the worst thing for foreign investment.”
I wasn’t surprised. My relatives live literally walled off from the Filipino masses, in a posh, all-Chinese residential enclave, on streets named Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Armed, private security forces guard every entry point.
Each time I think of Nilo Abique — he was 6′ 2″ and my aunt was 4′ 11″ — I well up with a hatred and revulsion so intense, it is actually consoling. But over time, I have also had glimpses of how the Chinese must look to the vast majority of Filipinos, to someone like Abique: as exploiters, as foreign intruders, their wealth inexplicable, their superiority intolerable. I will never forget the entry in the police report for Abique’s “motive for murder”: not robbery, despite the jewels and money the chauffeur was said to have taken, but just one word: “Revenge.”