When the luxury British cruise ship Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean in April 1912, thousands of people fell into the icy waters.
Only one of the lifeboats that escaped the wreckage returned in search of survivors.
In the dark, the rescue team saw a young Chinese man clinging to a wooden door, trembling but alive.
The man was Fang Long, one of six Chinese survivors of the Titanic, and his recovery promotes a popular scene in the 1997 Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.
But this miraculous survival was not the result of his experiment.
Twenty-four hours after arriving at the immigration checkpoint on Ellis Island in New York, six Chinese who escaped from the Titanic were expelled from the country because Chinese exemption law, controversial and racist law prohibited Chinese immigration to you. United States.
All six have disappeared from history – until now. The Six, a documentary now open in China, highlights their identities and lives after 109 years of travel.
Bad Titanic sinks in 1912 – Photo: Getty Images via BBC
The film reveals a story beyond the Titanic shaped by anti-racism and anti-immigration policy that has received a certain vibe today in the wake of hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the United States.
Who are the six Chinese who escaped?
The men were identified as Lee Ping, Fang Long, Chang Chip, Alam, Chung Fu and Ling Hee. They are believed to be sailors going to work in the Caribbean.
“As a group together, they don’t seem weird,” Arthur Jones, a British filmmaker and director of The Six, told the BBC.
The names of the surviving Chinese were on the ship’s passenger list, and reports of the sinking of the Titanic summed them up.
But unlike other Titanic survivors who have been praised in the press, historians and researchers say that Chinese men were degraded by anti-Chinese sentiment in the West in the early 20th century.
For example, in a report submitted a few days after the sinking, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called Chinese survivors “creatures” who jumped into lifeboats and disappeared under seats as “the first sign of the boat”.
But research by the documentary’s production team shows that this report is incorrect.
They built a replica of the Titanic’s lifeboat and could not hide from the Chinese.
“I think we see the same thing today. We use immigrants as sacrifices by the press,” Jones says.
One ticket lists the names of eight Chinese passengers on the Titanic – six of whom survived – Photo: LP Films
Other newspapers at the time accused Chinese men of dressing as women to get priority on boarding life boats.
According to Titanic historian Tim Maldin, there is no evidence that Chinese survivors hid or disguised themselves as women.
“These are stories that the press and the public discovered after the event,” he told the BBC.
There may have been rumors of a stigma attached to the many men who survived the Titanic, and the rescue of women and children should have been a priority, as the general public at the time thought.
One ticket lists the names of eight Chinese passengers on the Titanic – six of whom survived – photo: BBC
According to Malt, Chinese men tried to help others who survived. Fang Long, who was tying himself to the floating door, then paddled into the lifeboat that rescued him and helped take everyone on board to safety.
What happened to them after the accident?
All six expelled from the United States were sent to Cuba. They soon found their way UK, There was a shortage of sailors during World War I as many British sailors joined the army.
On the night of the Titanic voyage, Zhang Chip became increasingly ill and died of pneumonia in 1914, two years after the shipwreck. He was buried in an unmarked cemetery in London.
When news of the disaster came to New York in April 1912, people gathered around the bulletin boards of the newspaper – Photo: Getty Images via the BBC
The rest worked in the UK until the 1920s, when the country was hit by the post-war recession and anti-immigrant sentiment increased.
Some of these Chinese men married British women in the United Kingdom and had children. But the anti-immigration policy forced them to leave the country without warning, leaving their loved ones behind.
“It’s not their fault. All of these families are actually politically separated and have no control over them,” Jones says.
Alam was deported to Hong Kong, while Ling Hee boarded a steamboat bound for Calcutta, India.
Lee Ping emigrated to Canada, while Pang Long, after traveling for many years between Britain and Hong Kong, became a citizen of the country that once rejected him – the United States.
Parallels between history and the present
Tom Fang, son of Fong Lang, was born almost half a century after the sinking of the Titanic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There are many misspellings in English in the family surname.
For decades, he knew nothing about his father’s experience of the Titanic.
“He (Fang Long) never talked about it. He was not with me or my mother,” Fong told the BBC.
Tom Fong knows nothing about his father’s experience – Photo: BBC
Fang Long died in 1985 at the age of 90. It was not until 20 years after his death that Fong first learned from a family member that his father had survived an epic shipwreck.
Fang thinks his father may have kept his survival on the Titanic a secret because of the combination of shock and stigma.
“There were many reports that they were hiding under the boat and dressed like women …” he says. “Stories like that were spread at the time.”
While the film’s research team tracked down the descendants of the survivors, many of them were reluctant to share their families ’stories because of the stigma their family members experienced a century ago.
Fang, who grew up in the US state of Wisconsin, witnessed many incidents in which his father had to fight racism, including stabbing someone who was called by disgraceful names.
“He (Fang Long) is a good man, until he realizes that he is being discriminated against by his race,” Fong says.
For more than a hundred years, the hostility experienced by the six surviving Chinese echoes the anti-Asian racism fueled by the corona virus epidemic.
In the United States alone, thousands of cases of abuse ranging from spitting and verbal harassment to violent assault have been reported in the past few months.
Fong chose to share the story of his family, hoping that the public would learn about the true story of the Chinese Titanic survivors and think about current events.
“If you don’t know the story, it will come back again,” Fong says.