Biography of José Rizal

José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, known as José Rizal, lived from 1861 to 1896. He was a Filipino nationalist and writer who is now often regarded as the national hero of the Philippines. An ophthalmologist, or eye doctor, by trade, he was a key advocate for Filipino freedom from Spain. At only 35, he was executed by the Spanish government for the crime of rebellion after the breakout of the Philippine Revolution, which was partially inspired by his works.

Rizal was born in 1861 in Calamba, Philippines and was one of eleven children. He came from a wealthy family of diverse origins, with Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and indigenous Filipino heritage. Rizal initially planned to study law, but decided to study ophthalmology after learning that his mother was going blind. Without his parents’ knowledge, he traveled to Europe during his college years, where he wrote the novel Noli Me Tángere. In 1887, he returned to the Philippines, but he was targeted by the police there and returned to Europe, writing El Filibusterismo, the novel’s sequel, which was released in 1891. The next year, he returned to the Philippines again, convinced he needed to be in the country to truly effect change. Though he supported nonviolent action, he was exiled to another island in the Philippines. In 1896, Rizal was convicted of treason, despite having no ties to more violent groups, and executed on December 30. His killing created further opposition to Spanish rule in the Philippines.

Despite his short life, Rizal is one of the most famous Filipinos of all time. Early experiences witnessing his mother and Filipino priests being unfairly accused of crimes, as well as the discrimination he faced in school, convinced him of the need for change in the Philippines. Undeterred by the backlash to his politically charged books, Rizal continued to advocate for change throughout his life. His novels were highly influential in raising consciousness in the country. Andres Bonifacio, the leader of a revolutionary group in the Philippines, used Rizal’s novels as a foundation for the revolution and even shouted Rizal’s name as a battlecry. Although Rizal advocated for peaceful change, being associated with more militant groups led to his arrest and execution. Rizal’s life and work continues to have a powerful legacy. In 1956, the Filipino government passed a law requiring his novels, Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo to be taught in all schools across the country.

Study Guides on Works by José Rizal

El Filibusterismo was the second novel written by Filipino writer and nationalist José Rizal. He published the book in 1891 as the sequel to his first novel, Noli Me Tangere or The Social Cancer. El Filibusterismo, known in English as The Reign of...

Noli Me Tángere, known in English as Touch Me Not (a literal translation of the Latin title) or The Social Cancer, is often considered the greatest novel of the Philippines, along with its sequel, El filibusterismo. It was originally written in...