The 6 Chinese Survivors of the Titanic That U.S. History Purposely Erased
A new documentary to be released later this year will finally shed light on the six Chinese survivors of the “unsinkable” ship, the RMS Titanic, on April 15, 1912.
The film, titled “The Six,” tells the story of how six of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic — Lee Bing, Fang Lang, Chang Chip, Ah Lam, Chung Foo, and Ling Hee — survived the tragic collision with an iceberg that took the lives of 1,500 passengers, according to South China Morning Post.
“Of the 700 survivors of the Titanic disaster, the six Chinese men never told their stories,” British documentary maker, Arthur Jones, said while in Shanghai where his production company LP Films is based. “Why were they ignored?”
“The global press loved and continues to love the Titanic story, chronicling every little detail, right down to the size of the ashtrays in second class. But nothing was reported about the Chinese passengers,” he continued.
Puzzling indeed, considering the largest group of non-European or North American passengers on the luxury ship were Chinese.
Jones also raised other questions regarding what happened to the surviving Chinese passengers of the ship:
“Who were they, why were they on board and what happened to them after the disaster? And how did so many get on a lifeboat?”
Jones, with the help of historian and collaborator Steven Schwankert, went out to uncover the lost stories of these brave men. The research team traveled to several countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, China, and Hong Kong, to track down the descendants of the six survivors.
Thousands of people tried to reach out to the team during their search. Jones then decided to launch a social media campaign on whoarethesix.com to get more information on the six passengers.
One of the survivors’ son was traced to Wisconsin, while other clues led the team back to a remote village in the port city of Guangzhou, China. Jones admitted that the whole process of tracking down relatives proved to be full of obstacles.
“Chinese genealogy is notoriously difficult, particularly in English-language documents such as shipping records, where names are often inconsistently transcribed,” says Jones.
The eight Chinese men, who boarded the luxury ship in Southampton, England, on a single ticket, were believed to have worked on cargo ships traveling between China and Europe. They were reportedly bound for the United States to start a new life.
Four of the six men were lucky enough to board the last lifeboat, one was rescued by another boat, and the last one was found on wreckage believed to be a piece of wood or door floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The remaining two of the eight Chinese men — Lee Ling and Len Lam — did not make it out alive.
However, upon reaching the U.S. after their rescue, the six men were immediately barred from entering the country due to the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which explicitly denies immigrants from China.
“Other survivors were welcomed to the US with open arms. But these six were given no support and [were] widely mocked in the press,” the documentary maker said. “Rumors swirled that they dressed as women, or pushed children away to get on lifeboats or hid like stowaways in the lifeboats. But we found they didn’t hide or dress as women – they all had valid tickets and there is no evidence of them taking seats from children and women.”
The men were instead sent to an immigration station on Ellis Island. They mysteriously disappeared from the public in just 24 hours after boarding a ship and were never seen or heard off again.
“Six Chinese guys made it off the Titanic alive, and 24 hours later were written out of the story. That wasn’t an accident. That was deliberate. It’s something that the culture of the time made happen,” says Jones.