Though José Rizal was not directly involved in the Philippine Revolution, his writings are often cited as part of the inspiration for it, and while Noli Me Tángere is set before the revolution, understanding the revolution can help one comprehend the issues at hand in the novel. The Philippine Revolution lasted from 1896 to 1898 and diminished Spanish influence in the Philippines, but did not fully eliminate outside influence from the islands. Rizal was the most prominent member of the Propaganda Movement, a movement led by writers of Filipino descent in Europe who used literature to criticize their society. Historians have argued that the revolution truly began with the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869, which gave some Filipinos access to Europe and new ideas of freedom. Like Rizal, many Filipinos returned home from Europe opposing Spanish rule.
In 1872, a small revolt, the Cavite Mutiny, set off the revolutionary cause. The small mutiny was rapidly crushed by the Spanish, and it was used as an excuse for increased repression of revolutionary activity. This repression, however, only made the revolutionary cause stronger. Three priests, José Burgos, Jacinto Zamora, and Mariano Gómez, were accused of working with the mutineers and executed, and they became martyrs to the revolution.
In 1892, Andres Bonifacio founded a clandestine revolutionary society, the Katipunan, in Manila, and in the next four years, membership rose to over 100,000. Once the Spanish discovered the organization in 1896, Bonifacio called for armed rebellion. Though Rizal had never advocated for such a thing himself, he was executed for treason late that year, which further outraged Filipinos. In the beginning of 1897, leadership of the revolution passed to Emilio Aguinaldo, who had Bonifacio shot for supposed sedition. Yet Aguinaldo was unable to defeat the Spanish militarily. At the end of 1897, the pact of Biak-na-Bato temporarily ended the conflict, exiling Aguinaldo and other revolutionary leaders to Hong Kong and promising significant reforms to Spanish rule. Aguinaldo bought arms in Hong Kong, while the promised reforms did not materialize.
After the Spanish suffered a military defeat in 1898, Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines and fought against the United States, who now controlled the islands. This conflict is known as the Philippine-American War.