Titanic’s forgotten survivors: Mariner who inspired film’s ending after clinging to a door in the ocean was one of six Chinese men who escaped only to be vilified and kicked out of the US within hours, documentary reveals
- Six of eight Chinese men who boarded the Titanic in 1912 survived the sinking
- Five escaped on lifeboats and one was rescued while clinging to a wooden plank
- Filmmakers Arthur Jones and Steven Schwankert explore their story in The Six
- Discovered the men were immediately sent away from the US despite surviving
A new documentary exposes the harrowing story of the six Chinese mariners who survived Titanic but were vilified in the press and deported from the US just days after the sinking.
Filmmakers Arthur Jones and Steven Schwankert are hoping to correct history with new film The Six, which debuted in Chinese theaters this week, and tells the story of eight third-class Chinese passengers on the ship: Ah Lam, Fang Lang, Len Lam, Cheong Foo, Chang Chip, Ling Hee, Lee Bing and Lee Ling.
After the sinking, two of the men died, five escaped the ship on lifeboats, and a sixth, Fang Lang, survived after he was found clinging to a wooden plank in the middle of the ocean.
The true story of Fang’s miraculous survival was recaptured by James Cameron for a scene in his 1998 blockbuster Titanic, but was never included in the final cut of the film.
Instead, Cameron used the story as inspiration for his final scenes between Jack and Rose as they desperately clung to a floating piece of wood as a means to survive.
In reality, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, just one day after arriving in New York after the tragedy, the six men were vilified by the press and forced to travel straight for the Caribbean to work on fruit ships, before they were deported to the UK.
When the research team of The Six tracked down descendants of the survivors, some had no idea their relatives had been aboard the ship because they had never spoken about the disaster.
New documentary The Six tells the previously untold stories of six Chinese survivors of the Titanic disaster, including (from left) Ling Hee, Fang Lang, Lee Bing and Ah Lam
James Cameron used the story of Fang as inspiration for the final scene of the film which saw Rose and Jack clinging to a wooden door in the ocean
Filmmakers Arthur Jones and Steven Schwankert are hoping to correct history with new documentary The Six, a film about the Chinese men who survived the sinking of Titanic (pictured Titanic leaves berth 43 at Dock Gate 4, the entrance to the Eastern Dock in Southampton, to begin its fateful voyage across the Atlantic Ocean; a journey from which it never returned)
The story of the Titanic was legendary long before Cameron immortalized it in film form.
About 1,500 people were killed when the RMS Titanic – nicknamed ‘The Unsinkable Ship’ – struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on April 14, 1912.
Only around 700 people survived, most in lifeboats while a rare few managed to cling to the wreckage and wait for help to arrive in freezing waters.
But for years very little was known about the eight Chinese men who boarded the Titanic, and the six of them who survived.
Eight Chinese men boarded the Titanic, their names on a single ticket (pictured): Ah Lam, Fang Lang, Len Lam, Cheong Foo, Chang Chip, Ling Hee, Lee Bing and Lee Ling
Of the six survivors, five made it onto lifeboats and one man was rescued while clinging to a wooden plank out at sea
The filmmakers determined that it was likely all eight men, who were professional sailors working in Britain, knew each other before boarding the Titanic (pictured Fang Lang)
Who were the Chinese survivors of Titanic?
Lee Bing, 32, was from Hong Kong, he was married to Too Bing.
He was travelling to New York City with eight colleagues from the Donald Line’s Anetta. He was a fireman.
After the sinking of Titanic, he immigrated to Canada.
Chang (or Chong) Chip, 32, came from Hong Kong, he was unmarried.
After the diaster, he lived in London but became increasingly unwell and eventually passed away from pneumonia in 1914.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in London.
Choong Foo, came from Hong Kong, he was unmarried.
Ling Hee, 24, came from Hong Kong, he was unmarried.
It is understood Ling Hee was later forced to leave England and travelled to Calcutta, India.
Ah Lam, 37, was born in Canton, China. He was unmarried.
After the rescue, Ah (Ali) Lam was possibly later deported to Hong Kong.
Fang Lang is believed to have been born in China in 1894. He may have come from Hong Kong.
He settled in America, but never talked about the Titanic to his family.
He is believed to have died in 1985 aged 90.
Their names can still be found on a single ticket for third-class passengers: Ah Lam, Fang Lang, Len Lam, Cheong Foo, Chang Chip, Ling Hee, Lee Bing and Lee Ling.
Jones and Schwankert determined that it was likely all eight men, who were professional sailors working in Britain, knew each other before boarding the Titanic.
They discovered that the men were on the Titanic en route to Cuba, scheduled to board a freighter boat known as The Annetta in New York.
‘The reason they were traveling on Titanic in the first place is for work,’ Schwankert told The Washington Post.
‘They were professional mariners, and they were being seconded from their company in the UK to go and work on the companies in North America.’
The Lams were Cantonese while the others were British subjects from Hong Kong.
Lee Bing was married, but all the other men were single.
They were bunked up in the steerage, the lowest class of the cabins.
Only 20 per cent of non-British men in the steerage survived the sinking.
It is believed in part the men survived because they did not understand instructions to ‘stay in their rooms’ and were therefore able to escape onto life boats.
Five of the eight men escaped the ship on lifeboats, and four of them were in ‘Collapsible C’.
Collapsible C was a backup escape vessel and one of the last lifeboats to leave the ship. It was not full when it was found by rescuers.
Also inside the lifeboat was Joseph Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the company which owned the Titanic, as well as George T Rowe, the ship’s quartermaster.
Both men later testified to the presence of the four Chinese men in their lifeboat.
The sixth surviving man, Fang, was found in the sea by a lifeboat which had returned to the wreckage to search for survivors.
Fang passed away in 1985 at the age of 90, and according to his son Tom, who was born in the US, his father ‘never spoke’ about the disaster
What was the Chinese Exclusion act?
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.
Building on the earlier Page Act of 1875 which banned Chinese women from immigrating to the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first, and remains the only law to have been implemented, to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating to the United States.
The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed and strengthened in 1892 with the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902.
These laws attempted to stop all Chinese immigration into the United States for ten years, with exceptions for diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, and travelers.
Exclusion was repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943, which allowed 105 Chinese to enter per year.
Chinese immigration later increased with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which abolished direct racial barriers, and later by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the National Origins Formula.
Unlike other Titanic survivors who received praise in the press, the six men were vilified.
At the time, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the Chinese survivors were ‘creatures’ who had ‘sprung’ into lifeboats ‘at the first sign of danger’ and hidden themselves away.
The filmmakers discovered this theory would have been impossible for the Chinese men to have performed, with Arthur telling the BBC the immigrants were ‘scapegoated’ in the media.
Meanwhile other coverage at the time said the men had dressed as women in order to get priority to be rescued.
The men’s names are seen here listed in a newspaper report of who survived the wreckage however they were vilified by the press
The Titanic and fellow liner the Olympic under construction at the Harland and Wolf shipyard in Belfast. The Olympic was launched first, and after it was involved in a collision with HMS Hawke they had to pull resources from Titanic, which fatefully delayed her maiden voyage from 20 March to 10 April
Titanic historian Tim Maltin confirmed there is no evidence that the Chinese survivors were stowaways or disguised themselves as women.
Tim argues the men tried to help others, with Fang Lang rowing a lifeboat to ferry others to safety.
According to one newspaper, the two who died, Len Lam and Ling Lee, hid beneath the slats in the lifeboat and were ‘crushed to death by the weight of the other passengers sitting on top of them’.
Jones and Schwankert then discovered that, despite surviving the horrific experience, none of the six men were permitted to enter the United States.
The horrific 1912 Titanic tragedy
Constructed by Belfast-based shipbuilders Harland and Wolff between 1909 and 1912, the RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat of her time.
Owned and operated by the White Star Line, the passenger vessel set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.
The liner made two short stops en route to her planned Atlantic crossing — one at the French port of Cherbourg, the other at Cork Harbour, Ireland, where smaller vessels ferried passengers on and off board the Titanic.
Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping.
At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people
The Titanic took on water some fifteen times faster than could be pumped out, with the hull damage proving too extensive for the vessel’s watertight bulkheads to keep the flooding from spreading across the liner’s compartmentalised lower decks.
After around two-and-a-half hours, the vessel broke into two sections and sank, each settling to the seafloor around a third of a mile apart.
Around 1,500 people were believed lost in the tragedy, including around 815 of the liner’s passengers.
The ship’s main feature was the Grand Staircase. It was built from English solid oak, and enhanced with wrought iron. The decorated glass domes above were designed to let in as much natural light as possible
At its launch, the luxurious Titanic was the largest ship in the world, and was carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of people from Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere who were seeking a new life in the United States.
Eight Chinese men were on board and six survived, landing in New York three days later aboard the Carpathia, the first ship to arrive at the scene of the disaster.
Under the United States’ Chinese Exclusion Act, the men were transferred 24 hours later to a British steamship and sent to Cuba
Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping. Pictured, the iceberg believed to have sunk the Titanic
After around two-and-a-half hours, the vessel broke into two sections and sank, each settling to the seafloor around a third of a mile apart. Around 1,500 people were believed lost in the tragedy, including around 815 of the liner’s passengers
Titanic filmmaker James Cameron was so inspired by the stories of the Chinese mariners that he based the ending to his blockbuster on Fang’s story (pictured, Cameron, who is an executive producer on the new documentary)
Just after arriving in the US, the men were forced to travel to the Caribbean to work on fruit ships.
This was due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law passed in 1882 by President Chester A Arthur that forbid all Chinese laborers from immigrating to the country.
Unlike other survivors, the Chinese men were not allowed to bypass screening at Ellis Island and they received no medical aid.
‘They were not treated humanely,’ Arthur said. ‘We know they lost close friends on board. And yet they weren’t given the option of staying.’
Five of the eight men escaped the ship on lifeboats, and four of them were in ‘Collapsible C’, a backup escape vessel (depicted in The Six)
Cameron initially shot a scene for Titanic showing a lifeboat rescuing a Chinese man clinging to a piece of wood in the ocean – a reenactment of one of the survivors Fang Lang’s rescue. However it ended up being deleted from the final edit
The Titanic now lies on the seafloor around 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The liner made two short stops en route to her planned Atlantic crossing — one at the French port of Cherbourg, the other at Cork Harbour, Ireland, where smaller vessels ferried passengers on and off board
‘Not only did they have to leave in 24 hours, they were held overnight in custody. They were detained.’
Even stranger, after the men boarded the Annetta, they seemed to completely vanish from history.
THE TITANIC DISASTER TIMELINE
Ned Parfett, the ‘Titanic paperboy’, outside of the White Star Line offices in London
April 10, 1912 (12:00):
The Titanic sets sail from Southampton to New York, calling at Cherbourg and Cork en route.
April 14 (09:00–22.30, ship’s time):
Marconi Company radio officers on the Titanic received a total of six warnings of ice in the vicinity, not all of which were passed on to the crew.
April 14 (23:39):
Lookout Frederick Fleet, in the crow’s nest, spots an iceberg dead ahead of the ship. Turning to port, the vessel managed to avoid a direct collision, but suffered a ‘glancing blow’ instead.
April 15 (00:05):
Captain Edward Smith orders abandon ship and has radio operators issue distress signals.
April 15 (02:05):
The Titanic’s final lifeboat is launched. Ten minutes later, the liner’s angle in the water increased rapidly, ultimately reaching over 30 degrees, as water reached previously unflooded parts of the ship through deck hatches.
April 15 (02:20):
The Titanic finally disappeared beneath the waves, some two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg.
‘It really started to bother me. Like, why don’t we know?’ Schwankert said.
Jones and Schwankert spent more than two years trying to find the answer, traveling everywhere from the US to the UK, Cuba to China, and the Caribbean as well.
The filmmakers launched a website, whoarethesix.com, to try and find tips regarding the survivors for the documentary.
Using the manuscript of names, they were able to track down the historical records for the men, using Titanic internet forums to assist in their search.
The filmmaker discovered the men were sent to the UK, where there was a shortage of sailors after World War One.
Chang Chip became increasingly unwell and eventually passed away from pneumonia in 1914. He was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in London.
The other five worked together in Britain until 1920, with some marrying British women and having children.
However, an anti-immigrant policy forced them to depart the country without notice, leaving their loved ones behind.
The filmmakers discovered Fang Lang’s American-Chinese son Tom Fong on an internet forum.
Tom was searching for answers because he believed his father was one of those Chinese passengers.
They learned Fang had become a citizen of the US.
Fang passed away in 1985 at the age of 90, and according to Tom, he ‘never spoke’ about the disaster.
He thinks his father may have kept his Titanic survival as a secret from him because of a mix of trauma and stigma.
In a trailer for the film, he explained: ‘I asked my mother and she said she’d never heard about it, she’d never heard about my father being on this boat and it sinking or anything.’
Schwankert told Straits Times: ‘You have to go looking for people who are looking for you.
‘Thanks to finding Tom Fong, we were able to start putting together one of the stories and that also helped us understand the rest of it.’
When the research team of The Six tracked down descendants of the survivors, many of them were still reluctant to share their families’ stories due to the stigma experienced by their family members a century ago.
They learned Ah Lam was deported to Hong Kong, Ling Hee boarded a steamboat heading for India while Lee Bing immigrated to Canada.
The filmmakers discovered Fang Lang’s American-Chinese son Tom Fong on an internet forum, where he was searching for answers after suspecting his father was on board the ship
Tom, who continues to live in the US with his family, thinks his father may have kept his Titanic survival as a secret from him because of a mix of trauma and stigma
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