History, heritage, home: Sugbu Chinese Museum

Jenara Regis-Newman

FINALLY, Cebu City has a museum “to showcase centuries of collaboration between the Chinese and the Filipino people.” Located on the corner of M.C. Briones and P. Burgos streets, it is housed in what was known as the Gotiaoco building—a museum piece in itself. Built in 1914, it was— at four storeys—the tallest structure in Cebu and the first to have an elevator. Damaged during the war, the building has been restored and remodeled to house the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum.

Upon entering the museum, one is led to the lobby where the story of the building is shared. The building was built on reclaimed land where—before World War II—the railway used to pass. Manuel Gotianuy had a 99-year lease on the government lot for the building he built in his father’s honor, Don Pedro Gotiaoco. Manuel’s son, lawyer Augusto Go, turned the property over to the government in 2013.

Beyond this part of the lobby is the story of the transformation of Cebu into the city that it is today through a video presentation. And below the video monitors are mounted objects with stories that reinforce the video presentation.

The other half of the lobby is dominated by a replica of a Chinese boat (junk) that was used by the Chinese to come to this island to trade. Behind the boat are barrels of goods that were used in the trade like tea, anise and other spices, ceramics, chestnuts. To its side is an alley representing a busy Chinese street where—it is presumed—the Chinese traders found their way to Cebu, some of whom eventually decided to make Cebu their permanent residence.

The mezzanine is presented as a Chinese immigration office, where passports and other documentations are showcased, as are Chinese workers in their native attire.

The second and third floors are meant to show “the history, the heritage and contributions of the Sugbu Chinese to Cebu in various fields. Through its exhibits, both permanent and temporary, the museum will allow visitors to journey with the Sugbu Chinese from the 10th century pre-colonial Cebu, through the Sung and Ming dynasties, the eras of the Spanish and American rules, up to the contemporary period.”

These exhibits are not yet in place, except for the current temporary exhibit, on the second floor, of Chinese ceramics from the collection of Marilou B. Chiongbian and Stephen Tan, and Chinese dresses from the collection of Elizabeth Gan Go.

The museum is a work in progress. The Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum Foundation Inc., with offices on the fourth floor, has Bob Gothong as chairman. The group will surely strive to complete their dream of a museum, with exciting temporary exhibits and inspiring permanent ones. Executive director of the museum is Ma. Elena Lim while Dr. Jocelyn Guerra is curator/consultant. Architect for the transformation of the building into a museum is Anthony Abelgas.

The Sugbo Chinese Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee is P120 for foreign visitors, P75 for local and P60 for senior citizens, persons with disability and students.