Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Six: A Different Titanic Story

My knowledge of the sinking of the great ship Titanic long precedes the James Cameron movie. It comes from some combination of the movies A Night to Remember and The Unsinkable Mollie Brown, plus a Scholastic paperback version of A Night to Remember. I had my own instance of the baby-boomer-kid-obsession with the event, I guess, but probably not as badly as Daughter Number 2. (I was also interested in the Johnstown Flood and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I must have liked disasters, rather than the usual white-girl obsession with horses.)

Like all of us at the time, we were not much informed about the steerage passengers on the ship. That came later, courtesy of Leo DiCaprio.

But only now have I learned about the six Chinese men —Lee Bing, Fang Lang, Chang Chip, Ling Hee, Ah Lam and Chung Foo — who survived the sinking and who are the subjects of a new documentary. They were neither first class nor steerage: They were mariners, paying their way in third class as they traveled from one job to the next. 

When they arrived with the other passengers at the U.S. port on the rescue ship, they were denied entry to the U.S. and turned back, first to Cuba and then to the U.K. They were defamed as stowaways and said to have dressed as women to steal their seats on the lifeboats from a woman or child. The documentary investigates this and finds evidence that neither was true.

This was during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and they were dehumanized in the press instead of welcomed as survivors, like the other people who had been onboard. 

This BBC article about the documentary and this Twitter thread by Chinese-American Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding give some more of the story.

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