Anti-crime crusader and Filipino-Chinese heritage advocate Teresita Ang See’s newest book, The Ties that Bind: The Saga of the Sultan of Sulu in China, traces the historic journey of Sulu Sultan Paduka Batara to China for a tribute (friendship) mission in 1417.
Passing through China’s Grand Canal, Batara’s team comprised of more than 300 men and women arrived in Beijing on 12 September 1417 to visit Ming Dynasty emperor Yong Le whom they presented with tortoise shells, precious stones, pearls and a gold-inscribed memorial as gifts.
Ten days later, Batara’s group was hosted by the emperor who gave them royal seals and accorded them the title of princes.
Batara, the sultan of the east country (Sulu), was with two other rulers — Maharajah Kolamanting of the West Country and Paduka Prabhu.
Emperor Le also gifted the group with gold, silver, copper coins, chinaware and court costumes, among others, before they left for Sulu on 8 October.
Batara, however, fell sick while traversing the grand canal and died on 22 October at a government residence in Dezhou in Shandong province.
When Emperor Le knew of his death, he instructed his men to accord him an imperial burial with a tomb having “a memorial park and gateway, perform the Confucian sacrifices for a reigning monarch, and erect a memorial tablet” with an inscription that read, “Reverent and Steadfast.”
After his death, Batara’s wife Kamulin, second son Andulu, third son Wenhalla and 10 supporters remained to care for the sultan’s tomb while his eldest son returned to Sulu to assume his reign as the new leader.
Batara’s family in Shandong lived a royal life as they were given land and a regular supply of food and clothing for centuries. They intermarried with the local Chinese.
When his wife and two sons died, they were also buried in the vicinity of the sultan’s tomb which continues to be cared for by their still Muslim descendants at Bei Ying village in Dezhou, a rarity in China for a foreign monarch’s tomb.
Batara’s tomb was declared a heritage site by the state council in 1988 and became a heritage park in 2002.
In 2005, Batara’s descendants An Jin Tian, 76, and sons An Yan Chun and nephew Wei Hai Jun made a historic and sentimental visit to their ancestors’ homeland, Jolo, during the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between China and the Philippines and were officially conferred royal titles by Sulu authorities.
Borrowing from Ang See’s words, “The saga of the Sultan of Sulu in China is a story of enduring friendship, beyond borders and beyond time” between neighboring countries which had recently rekindled ties amid the tussle on islands, islets and shoals on the same sea crossed by Batara and his men for a 15th century “diplomatic mission” which happened more than a hundred years before Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” the Philippines.
Author’s note: The descendants scattered all over China now number to 21 generations.
Some of them visited the Philippines last year for the opening of an exhibit at Bahay Tsinoy Museum in Intramuros, among other activities commemorating the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day which falls on 9 June and the 42nd anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the country and China.