Pattaya’s claim to be the last Asian link with the Titanic disaster has been ditched by the new documentary which resurfaces from the depths, the largely unknown story of six Chinese men who survived the sinking.
With Oscar-winning director James Cameron as executive producer, The Six is earning glowing reviews in China and at one point trended on the country’s Twitter-like Weibo after its release last week. The six survivors were all Chinese seamen, based in UK, who were being sent by their company to Cuba to work on fruit boats in the Caribbean.
Pattaya’s claim to fame was very different. It was the last retirement home of Timothy Gibson, grandson of James Gibson, a trainee-officer on the nearby Californian, who saw the Titanic’s distress rockets but misinterpreted them as company signals. Timothy Gibson returned to UK because of health problems in 2020 and died there.
Inquiry courts in America and UK blamed the officers and captain of the Californian for not attempting a rescue operation, but the issue remains controversial. It has been suggested that another “mystery” ship lay between the two vessels, or that the Californian was too far away to have been of any assistance.
But the latest revelations put Pattaya’s echo claim into second place. The six Chinese survivors landed with other passengers in New York but were denied entry because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The documentary traces the later history of the men who were separated across the globe.
One survivor Fang Lang, a Hong Konger, was saved by a lifeboat after being luckily noticed floating on debris. This was the basis of the famous Jack and Rose scene in the 1997 Hollywood blockbuster Titanic. Fang later in life succeeded in acquiring American citizenship and died in 1985, aged 90.
His son Tom recalls that his father never spoke publicly or privately about his ordeal, perhaps because of totally unfounded rumours that the Chinese had survived by dressing as women or hiding in the boats as stowaways. Racist attitudes are certainly nothing new in the United States.
All the Chinese survivors were sent back to London from the Caribbean because of a shortage of working men in Britain owing to the First World War. One died in 1914 of pneumonia and is buried in a London graveyard. Another was deported to Hong Kong, whilst others travelled in later life to India and Canada.
The Six premiered in China on April 16, the day after the anniversary of the sinking in 1912. The documentary was scheduled for prior release in the United States but was delayed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Documentary director Arthur Jones said, “Audiences are already saying thank you for filling in this little bit of unwritten history, or maybe badly-written history.”