#AceHistoryReport – May.06: The ship, heralded as “unsinkable” at the time, collided with an iceberg in 1912 and sank, killing 1,500 passengers on board.
A new documentary called The Six has uncovered what really happened to the six Chinese survivors of the shipwreck, and why their stories remained hidden for so many years but little did they know they’d go on to become footnotes in history, surviving the world’s most famous maritime disaster: the sinking of the Titanic’
updated 4h ago
“For a lot of Chinese families, the Chinese diaspora spread out across the world, there has been this completely understandable valid sense that these are stories that should not be shared,” film director Arthur Jones said.
“That secrecy is the best way to go because they face such discrimination … they’ve had to cover so much and hide so much in order to just exist in these countries.”
Travelling on a single ticket, the men were bound for the east coast of the United States, which was booming due to a coal strike in the United Kingdom.
Determined not to be “overrun” by the new arrivals, the US put in place the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricting workers’ movements.
Mr Jones said this meant that the six survivors were swiftly moved on after their rescue.
“Twenty-four hours later they were sent off to the ship they were going to work on with utter contempt, with no sense of ‘we ought to look after them, they’ve been through this terrible trauma’,” he said.
“They were essentially kicked out of the country and given no option to stay.”
Sensationalised media reports claimed, among other things, that the group had dressed up in women’s clothing in an attempt to sneak on to lifeboats as the ship sank into the North Atlantic Ocean.
“When you think about it, it’s kind of absurd, I mean what are we thinking, that men were dashing into other people’s rooms and pulling on a skirt or a dress?” Mr Jones said.
“It seemed like a lot of these accusations were very racialised.”
The documentary makers said they were also warned by Titanic enthusiasts that there was nothing new to discover about the Titanic story – and they may not like what they did find, as the group “weren’t the most honourable men on board”.
Ashamed to be a survivor
Many of the men’s descendants were surprised to learn of their family connection to the Titanic.
Milwaukee resident Tom Fong had long suspected his father, Fang Lang, had been onboard the infamous ship, but, growing up, his dad was reluctant to talk about his past.
“As a child, I heard the story of my father being rescued laying on a piece of debris … but he clung on to a body first, and then somehow he made it on top of a door and then he latched himself [to it], but that was all I ever heard,” he said.
Not only had Fang Lang survived the Titanic, his story had inspired one of the most famous scenes in the 1997 movie by James Cameron – who is also an executive producer of The Six – where the central character, Rose, survives by clinging on to a floating door.
Mr Fong said he feels survivor’s guilt may be one reason why his dad kept the events secret.
“It was such a horrific event in his life – it’s sort of like people that have been to war, they don’t like to speak about what they experienced,” he said.
“They were sort of shamed, saying that they survived … maybe that was another reason why they didn’t really speak of the events of that night.”
Despite the long shadow cast by what happened in April 1912, Mr Fong says his father’s story of immigration and journeying into the unknown is still seen as a success story.
The forgotten history comes to light at a raw time for Asian Americans, who have launched ‘Stop Asian Hate’ rallies in response to a mass shooting at three spas in Atlanta in March and a surge in pandemic-related racism.
“What we’re experiencing now in the present day, with this anti-Asian sentiment, it’s sort of a reflection of the past,” he said.
“[If] you don’t learn from the past, you’re going to just repeat it.”
‘There were Chinese people on Titanic?’
The Six director Arthur Jones also thinks Titanic’s Chinese travellers’ ethnicity made them a target.
“[The people] who were the most obviously foreign, in the language of the time they were not Anglo-Saxon, were Asian passengers,” he said.
“They were othered.”
The documentary was released in China on April 16, amassing more than $735,000 at the box office so far and attracting positive reviews. Jones said he is in talks to have it released in Australia.
He’s hopeful the documentary will get people in China and around the world interested in the men’s stories.
“I asked around among Chinese friends and … the response was, ‘There were Chinese people on Titanic? How do we not know about this?”
“It was just amazing to find out, right in the middle of its incredibly famous story, there was an aspect of it that no-one knew about here, and yet was so connected to China.”
The men eventually ended up in the UK via Cuba and the Caribbean, where one, Chang Chip, died from pneumonia in 1914.
The rest stayed in the UK till 1920, when Ah Lam was deported to Hong Kong, Ling Hee went to India and Lee Bing emigrated to Canada.
Of the six survivors, only Fang Lang made it to US soil.
Tom Fong is just pleased his father’s experience can be told openly and honestly.
“I think he would sort of feel vindicated that he didn’t try to sneak on the [life]boat or dress like a woman to get on board,” he said.
“I think he’d probably be sort of happy that it’s coming out – to let the truth to come out”.
RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner operated by the White Star Linethat sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912, after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making the sinking at the time one of the deadliest of a single ship[a] and the deadliest peacetime sinking of a superliner or cruise ship to date. With much public attention in the aftermath, the disaster has since been the material of many artistic works and a founding material of the disaster filmgenre.Titanic departing Southampton on 10 April 1912HistoryUnited KingdomName:TitanicOwner:White Star LineOperator:White Star LinePort of registry:Liverpool, UKRoute:Southampton to New York CityOrdered:17 September 1908Builder:Harland and Wolff, BelfastCost:GB£1.5 million (£140 million in 2016)Yard number:401Way number:400Laid down:31 March 1909Launched:31 May 1911Completed:2 April 1912Maiden voyage:10 April 1912; 109 years agoIn service:10–15 April 1912Out of service:15 April 1912Identification:
- Official Number 131428
- Code Letters HVMP
- Radio call sign “MGY”
Fate:Struck an iceberg 11:40 p.m. (ship’s time) 14 April 1912 on her maiden voyage and sank 2 h 40 min later on 15 April 1912; 109 years ago.Status:WreckGeneral characteristics Class and type:Olympic-classocean linerTonnage:46,328 GRTDisplacement:52,310 tonsLength:882 ft 9 in (269.1 m)Beam:92 ft 6 in (28.2 m)Height:175 ft (53.3 m) (keel to top of funnels)Draught:34 ft 7 in (10.5 m)Depth:64 ft 6 in (19.7 m)Decks:9 (A–G)Installed power:24 double-ended and five single-ended boilers feeding two reciprocating steam engines for the wing propellers, and a low-pressure turbine for the centre propeller; output: 46,000 HPPropulsion:Two three-blade wing propellers and one three-blade centre propellerSpeed:Cruising: 21 kn (39 km/h; 24 mph). Max: 23 kn (43 km/h; 26 mph)Capacity:Passengers: 2,435, crew: 892. Total: 3,327 (or 3,547 according to other sources)Notes:Lifeboats: 20 (sufficient for 1,178 people)
RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.
Titanic was under the command of Captain Edward Smith, who also went down with the ship. The ocean liner carried some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe, who were seeking a new life in the United States. The first-class accommodation was designed to be the pinnacle of comfort and luxury, with a gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants, and opulent cabins. A high-powered radiotelegraph transmitter was available for sending passenger “marconigrams” and for the ship’s operational use. The Titanic had advanced safety features, such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors. The ship carried 16 lifeboat davits which could lower three lifeboats each, for a total of 48 boats. However, Titanic carried only a total of 20 lifeboats, four of which were collapsible and proved hard to launch during the sinking. The carried lifeboats were enough for 1,178 people—about half the number on board, and one third of her total capacity—due to the maritime safety regulations of those days. At the time of the sinking, the lowered lifeboats were only about half-filled.
After leaving Southampton on 10 April 1912, Titanic called at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, before heading west to New York. On 14 April, four days into the crossing and about 375 miles (600 km) south of Newfoundland, she hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. ship’s time. The collision caused the hull plates to buckle inwards along her starboard (right) side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea; she could only survive four flooding. Meanwhile, passengers and some crew members were evacuated in lifeboats, many of which were launched only partially loaded. A disproportionate number of men were left aboard because of a “women and children first” protocol for loading lifeboats. At 2:20 am, she broke apart and foundered with well over one thousand people still aboard. Just under two hours after Titanic sank, the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia arrived and brought aboard an estimated 710 survivors.
The disaster was met with worldwide shock and outrage at the huge loss of life, as well as the regulatory and operational failures that led to it. Public inquiries in Britain and the United States led to major improvements in maritime safety. One of their most important legacies was the establishment of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in 1914, which still governs maritime safety. Several new wireless regulations were passed around the world in an effort to learn from the many missteps in wireless communications—which could have saved many more passengers.
The wreck of Titanic was discovered in 1985 by a Franco-American expedition sponsored by the United States Navy. The ship was split in two and is gradually disintegrating at a depth of 12,415 feet (2,069.2 fathoms; 3,784 m). Thousands of artefacts have been recovered and displayed at museums around the world. Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history, depicted in numerous works of popular culture, including books, folk songs, films, exhibits, and memorials. Titanic is the second largest ocean liner wreck in the world, only being surpassed by her sister ship HMHS Britannic; however, she is the largest sunk while in service as a liner, as Britannic was in use as a hospital ship at the time of her sinking. The final survivor of the sinking, Millvina Dean, aged two months at the time, died in 2009 at the age of 97:
#AceHistoryDesk report …..Published: May.06: 2021:
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