Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: the untold story of six Chinese stokers who survived Titanic disaster

By Claire McNeilly

Cynical observers of the new Titanic currently being built in China have argued that there is no historical connection between that country and the ill-fated Belfast-built ship.

But now a little known fact - that eight Chinese passengers were on board when the legendary liner perished in 1912 - has emerged.

Six of the eight - all stokers - survived the sinking, and their appearance on the rescue ship Carpathia is said to have raised more than a few eyebrows at the time.

Little was heard of the six after that - indeed, they supposedly vanished without trace - but a new documentary from US film-maker and maritime historian Steven Schwankert may be about to change all that.

'The Six', which will be released early next year, spotlights who the six Chinese survivors are, how they survived, and why they vanishe d from the records - having been forced to leave within 24 hours of their arrival in the United States because of the controversial Chinese Exclusion Act that was in force at the time.

"That huge vessel that came out of Belfast is the alpha and the omega of shipwrecks," said Schwankert, who is also China correspondent for America Magazine and Variety. "This isn't just a Western story, it's a global story. And now, a Chinese story."

One of 'The Six', Fang Lang, was found on a floating piece of the wreckage by other survivors in a lifeboat, prompting a debate as to whether he should be saved.

As one officer in the lifeboat wrongly remarked: "There's others better worth saving than a Jap."

The other passengers disagreed, and plucked the 26-year-old Hong Kong man from the sea. Despite being dehydrated and exhausted, the 'Jap' took over from another passenger and "worked like a hero", according to the same officer who had initially questioned his worth.

The Chinese were actually the largest group of non-European or north American passengers on board the doomed liner, which sank on its maiden voyage with the loss of 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers and crew.

Vanishing from the history books in the disaster's aftermath, their absence has left even more questions unanswered - including a claim that they were stowaways, not genuine seamen.

"Their story is actually one of courage and of quick thinking," said Mr Schwankert, adding: "We don't accept the history as it is presented - we don't believe these guys just disappeared."

So far, he and director Arthur Jones have been to the home village of at least one of the men, and have traced their descendants to the UK, US and Canada.

During the investigation into the sinking of the Harland and Wolff-built vessel, owner J Bruce Ismay, who was on the same lifeboat as two of the Chinese survivors, said they only "found four Chinamen stowed away under the thwarts" after the boat was already in the water.

Schwankert says, however: "No matter what Ismay said or thought, they were not stowaways on any lifeboats."

James Cameron's 1997 film has led to a huge surge of Chinese interest in the Titanic, including the construction of a £105m exact replica of the ship in Sichuan Province, which will be open to the public in 2019.

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