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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Hero for the New Asia

A century after his martyrdom, modern lessons from José Rizal

AT SEVEN IN THE morning on Dec. 30 in Manila's Luneta Park, Filipinos re-enacted the execution by firing squad of Dr. José Rizal. Exactly a century after the historic event, they were honoring not just a national hero, but an Asian one. The anti-colonial struggle Rizal helped ignite began the region's century-long emergence from imperialist domination, which will culminate with the return of Hong Kong to China at midyear. "History does not record any enduring rule of one people over another, who belong to different races," wrote the nationalist in his prophetic essay, "The Philippines a Century Hence." In the 100 years that have followed, Asia has proven Rizal right.

The region would be the poorer, however, if all it commemorates is Rizal's battle against colonialism. That scourge has long ended in much of Asia, but others still fester -- poverty, inequity, ignorance, moral decay -- enormities that the patriot also opposed. More than just independence he preached nation-building, in political, social, material, intellectual and moral spheres. Along with political freedom, Rizal advocated economic development, science and education, better farming and upright living. This broader vision is what makes the Filipino martyr a beacon for the New Asia.

That Rizal saw beyond overthrowing the colonizer in his vision for the Philippines would come as no surprise to those familiar with his life and achievements. In a speech at the Ateneo de Manila University, the hero's alma mater, one of his staunch admirers, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, called him the "Asian renaissance man" for his excellence in a host of arts and sciences. He was a medical doctor, a poet, novelist and essayist, a sculptor, painter and fencing enthusiast. He studied 22 languages, spoke five fluently, and lived for many years in Europe and, in 1891-92, Hong Kong. This month a historical marker is to be restored to the former site of his clinic in the territory. Like the Asia of today, Rizal was expansive in his interests and international in his outlook.

Exiled by the colonial government to Dapitan, southern Philippines, from 1892 to 1896, he busied himself with economic and scientific pursuits to benefit the local community. He collected and classified medicinal plants and used them to treat chronic diseases. He catalogued 346 kinds of marine and land shells and opened a school for select students where, like a latter-day Plato, he integrated formal instruction with athletics. Using winnings from a lottery, Rizal improved local farming and fishing. He also initiated projects to construct Dapitan's first water system, light its streets and drain its marshes. Such concern for economics and learning, rather than just politics, would certainly be prized by modern-day Asians.

Though his family in Laguna province, southeast of Manila, was fairly rich, Rizal suffered the pains of foreign rule even in his youth -- blows that made him oppression's enemy for life. Before he was 10, the colonial Guardia Civil arrested his mother Teodora on a false charge. Years later Rizal himself was assaulted and jailed by a Guardia lieutenant for failing to tip his hat to the officer. Thus, he found common cause with other Filipino intellectuals raging against imperial despotism. In Spain they campaigned for reforms in the colony, including Philippine representation in the Spanish parliament, and extolled Filipino culture and achievements.

Some historians have criticized Rizal for advocating reform over revolution, accusing him of having taken the safer course for fear of losing his position of privilege, if not his life. In fact, years before he died, he professed a willingness to make the supreme sacrifice, if need be. "I want to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our duties and convictions," he wrote to fellow Filipinos before returning home from Hong Kong in 1892. Once he refused pleas by friends to change his nationality to evade persecution at home. More important for Asia, where injustice continues to spur the oppressed to take up arms, Rizal's preference of gradual, non-violent change offers an alternative that will preserve progress while seeking to distribute its bounties fairly.

For all his devotion to his nation, Rizal was not blind to the failings of fellow Filipinos -- perhaps his greatest lesson for today's successful Asians. He criticized sloth, intemperance and immorality and sought to inspire his compatriots to greater things, never waning in his belief in what they could achieve. "I am most anxious for liberties for our country," he wrote in a farewell message before his death. "But I place as a prior condition the education of the people so that our country may have an individuality of its own and make itself worthy of liberties." That freedom must come with learning is a lesson not just for Asia, but the whole world.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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