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The First Books Printed in the Philippines

First page of Wuchi t’ien-chu cheng-chiao chen-chuan shih-luTitle page of Doctrina Christiana, en lengua española y tagala

Two books were printed in the Philippines in 1593, but it is unclear which one was printed first. Only one copy of each book is known to exist. The Doctrina Christiana, en lengua española y tagala (aka Tagalog Doctrina) may be found at the Library of Congress (LC) in Washington, DC, while the Wuchi t’ien-chu cheng-chiao chen-chuan shih-lu (aka Shih-lu) is at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.

If you'd like to examine the books but can't afford to travel to the United States or Spain, the Tagalog Doctrina has an excellent digital copy, and facsimiles—entitled Doctrina Christiana: The first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593, one published by LC (1947; available online via Project Gutenberg) and another by the National Historical Commission (1973)—are probably available at major libraries in the Philippines. Unfortunately, there is no online version of the Shih-lu, but it's possible that your library has a copy of Pien cheng-chiao chen-ch’uan shih-lu, which was published in 1986.

It must be noted that the 1947 facsimile of the Tagalog Doctrina was published before any other books were found, and so perhaps its subtitle may be excused. But the 1973 facsimile is more problematic. Its foreword clearly indicates that two books were printed in 1593, but whoever decided on the subtitle must not have read the foreword. The Shih-lu facsimile's subtitle is more circumspect: "First book printed in the Philippines?"

Just in case you're getting confused—maybe you were taught that there was only one book or three books printed in the Philippines in 1593—below are quotations from some websites, followed by my comments, which I hope will help to clear up the (mis)interpretations that have accumulated over the years.


It is believed that the first book in the country was Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua China, which was printed in 1593 by Juan de Vera, a Filipino-Chinese.
My comment
This book, aka Chinese Doctrina, surfaced in 1948 after the Tagalog Doctrina and before the Shih-lu. Some have asserted that the Chinese Doctrina was printed before 1593, but the evidence that it was printed early in the 17th century is stronger. Also, the Chinese Doctrina's title page indicates that the book's printer was Keng Yong, which may or may not have been the Chinese name of Juan de Vera.
This first book printed in the Philippines... contains the basic elements of the Christian religion based on the catechism of Saint Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit theologian and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930... Originally in Chinese, a new version was released just a few months later using the ancient Tagalog script known as baybayin.
My comment
Bellarmine’s Doctrina Christiana appeared in 1597, and so could not possibly have been the basis for the Tagalog Doctrina or any book printed in 1593. If the Tagalog Doctrina was "Originally in Chinese" and "a new version was released just a few months later," this means that the Tagalog Doctrina was printed after the Chinese "version," and so, must not have been "first." In addition, the use of the word "version" implies that the content of the Tagalog Doctrina and the other book were similar, if not the same. But the Shih-lu is, in fact, completely different from the the Tagalog Doctrina in terms of content.
National Commission for Culture and the Arts
...the first books were called the Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Espanola y Tagala (Tagalog edition) and the Doctrina Christian [sic] en letra y lengua china (Chinese edition) by Keng Yong... Scholars have since accepted the third doctrina dubbed the Tratado [aka Shih-lu] to be the Chinese doctrina referred to in the Dasmarinas letter of 1593. Scholars have agreed that the Keng Yong Doctrina must have been printed around 1590...
My comment
This NCCA article is an example of some of the confusing narratives that have been written about the first Philippine imprints. If, for instance, scholars have accepted that the Shih-lu was printed in 1593, why does this writer refer to the Tagalog Doctrina and the Chinese Doctrina as the first books printed in the Philippines? Is it possible that she thinks the Shih-lu and the Chinese Doctrina are one and the same? If so, is the "Keng Yong Doctrina" different from the Chinese Doctrina? Finally, if the Keng Yong Doctrina was printed in 1590, shouldn't that make it the first book printed in the Philippines?
If you have read this far and gotten even more confused by my comments, just go back to the first two paragraphs of this post and pretend that you did not read the rest =)

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