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Selasa, 04 Mei 2021

Forgotten history of the Titanic's Chinese survivors told in new documentary The Six - ABC News

More than a hundred years ago, eight Chinese men left their homes and families to take up work in the US's thriving shipping industry.

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.

The ship, heralded as "unsinkable" at the time, collided with an iceberg in 1912 and sank, killing 1,500 passengers on board. 

Now 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.

"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.

An anti-Chinese poster.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended all immigration of Chinese labourers.(

Supplied: Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma

)

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."

Titanic
A scene from the 1997 film Titanic, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet, was inspired by one of the Chinese men's survival stories. (

Supplied

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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.

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.

A bald man of Chinese appearance wearing glasses, a watch and a wedding ring sits thinking.
Tom Fong says the lessons from his father's past are relevant today.(

Supplied: LP Films

)

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.

The Titanic after its launch and before its maiden voyage
The ship struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton in England to New York. 

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?'

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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 wreck of the Titanic in the gloomy depths
The sunken luxury passenger ship remains on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.(

News Video

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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.

Floating lanterns are released on the water at a memorial ceremony in Taishan,
Floating lanterns are released on the water at a memorial ceremony in Taishan, where most of the Titanic's Chinese passengers came from.(

Supplied: LP Films

)

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".

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2021-05-04 18:40:18Z
CAIiEE6yuT30htBkWzbtJJq63_UqFwgEKg4IACoGCAow3vI9MPeaCDD7kIkG

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