The Titanic has long been dominated by Western narratives, but it turns out that the famous Western love story was inspired by a Chinese.
When the fiction movie is on its 25th anniversary, it’s time to change narrative and reveal the ignored story.
There were eight Chinese people on the Titanic in real history, and six of them survived. The last survivor Fang Lang, lying on a door in the sea, was rescued by the returning ship, which became the inspiration for Rose’s rescue in the movie.
Fang Long is a sailor from Toisan, a famous hometown of overseas Chinese. He lost his job due to the labour strike in Britain and was sent to the North America route on the Titanic when he was 17.
After surviving the shipwreck, Fang Long and other Chinese survivors were forced to leave America in less than 24 hours due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. At that time, only those who were born in the US and able to prove it, as well as those who were diplomats, scholars, businessmen or tourists, could enter the US.
To survive and protect himself, Fang Long hid his name and entered the United States with false documents, even his wife and children were kept in the dark about his past until his death.
Fang Long passed away in 1985 at the age of 90. It was not until 20 years after his death, did his son Mr. Long first got to know from a family member that his father had survived from a legendary ship.
“From our experiences talking to people connected with the survivors of Titanic,, we find it seems like there was a sense of shame around the survivors. There were rumours that they had been dishonest or cowardly or selfish,” said Paul Wade, researchers behind The Six.
Race-based discussion was very common in 1912. In the days after the Titanic sank, many of the stories about what happened were written.
From the moment the Carpathia arrived in New York, stories of Chinese passengers on the Titanic and their behaviour on board began to emerge, though none of them were positive.
“Coward, stowaway, pretending to be a woman to survive…”
The peculiarity of Titanic’s entire narrative is that it portrays the events of that night through a racial lens. Social historian Wei Cheng said: “In order to elevate the ‘Anglo-Saxon race’, there must be an ‘other’. The existence of an ‘other’ helps to establish the sense of self. At that time, the group best positioned to be the ‘other’ was the Chinese.”
For more than a century, these claims and allegations have tarnished the reputation of the Chinese survivors.
Researchers keep examining and analysing, trying to answer a key question to change the accusation: Did the presence of the five Chinese survivors interfere with the rescue of the other women and children?
The evidence showed the boats set off in perfect calmness. Chinese passengers, like everyone on board, just wanted to save their own lives. They showed ingenuity and tenacity to make it but received flooded condemnations from other passengers.
Unlike other survivors, they received neither media attention nor medical aid. They were criticised, then forgotten.
Turned away from the US, the six men were sent to Cuba to work on fruit ships at first. They soon found their way to the UK, where there was a shortage of sailors as many British sailors were enlisted in the army during World War One. Until 1920, when the country suffered from post-war recession and anti-immigrant emotions were high, they were forced to depart without notice, even some of whom had married with children.
Fang Lang, after sailing between Britain and Hong Kong for years, became a citizen of the US with a new identity and the secret of drifting.
“I think these are very critical stories that need to be told. That everyone should learn about the contributions that’s made by different ethnic groups,” said Soo Lon Moy, a historian.
In 2011, the US Congress finally apologised for the Chinese Exclusion Laws.
“It wasn’t until researchers like me, persisted in uncovering that period of their history, and not justifying it, but explaining why it happened, and we call for a recognition,” said Judy Yung, a historian. “Let this be a lesson for us, that as a nation of immigrants, we have to uphold our values and treat all immigrants with liberty and justice for all.
As part of Odyssey’s pre-festival programme, this film was ‘re-released’ in the UK alongside Titanic’s 25 Anniversary 4K restoration. It was the organisation’s gesture to present the missing piece of a bigger puzzle.