You may have heard the story of how the RMS Titanic faced its demise. But have you heard of its six Chinese survivors?
The ship that was dubbed “unsinkable” departed from Southampton, England and was set to arrive in New York. Unfortunately, on April 15, 1912, the luxury liner failed to dodge an iceberg, resulting in its imminent doom. More than 2,200 people were on board the ship, and eight of them were Chinese.
Out of the thousands of passengers, only about 706 survived and among those survivors were six of the eight Chinese passengers. They were Lee Bing, Fang Lang, Chang Chip, Ah Lam, Chung Foo, and Ling Hee. Lee Ling and Len Lam didn’t survive.
Photo courtesy of “The Six,” the documentary on the Chinese Titanic survivors
When the ship sank, five of them were lucky enough to secure a lifeboat, while the sixth survivor, Fang Lang, was rescued “after being spotted floating in the wreckage.” Unfortunately, Harold Lowe, the officer who operated the boat that saved Fang, was discriminatory towards him. He was hesitant to pick him up, but the passengers convinced him otherwise. Fang later heroically rowed them back to safety.
The hardships, however, did not end there. Once they were back on land, the other survivors were given a “hero’s welcome,” but the six Chinese survivors were deported due to a discriminatory policy: the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had initially barred all immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years; the discriminatory policy was extended in 1892 by the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902 with even further restrictions. (The policy would not be ended until 1943 when China was a World War II ally.)
After that, the stories of these men remain unknown. What was left were traces of criticism from the media, depicting them as “‘creatures’ and ‘coolies.'”
But together, we can continue to tell their story and make sure they’re never forgotten. We can share the door, so to speak.