Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shocking Racism Shown to Titanic's Chinese survivors

The level of racism shown to the Chinese survivors of the Titanic is staggering.
The Titanic carried eight Chinese men. Six survived. Four hid on the bottom of Collapsible C before women were allowed in.  One wound up in Lifeboat No. 13. And one was picked up by Lifeboat No. 4 as he drifted, nearly frozen to death, atop a door.
Unlike most of the other survivors, details about the Chinese passengers is sparse to none.  They were travelling on the same ticket.  How they got split up nobody knows. They were sailors, connected somehow to the ship Anetta. They may have all been from Hong Kong, with the emphasis on 'may'. Where they were going has never been explained. One source says the survivors were put on a ship headed for Cuba, but without sourcing that information. No interviews with any of the men has surfaced. Or of any of their relatives. Or of anyone from the Anetta.
The Anglo-American crew and passengers on the Titanic sneered at "Italians"for showing panic, but that was nothing compared to the attitude shown to the Chinese who were literally threatened with death by their rescuers, thrown into irons, held incommunicado, and expelled from the United States as soon as humanly possible.

Camden Post-Telegram
Wednesday 15th May 1912
Ship's Head Barber Tells Camden Elks of His Thrilling Experience.

Unfortunately, all Weikman has to say is as follows:
"In loading the boats they aimed to put one man to every four women, and in this work Mr. Ismay lent valuable aid. Mr. Weikman says that the managing director of the company was attired then only in his pajamas and was barefooted. He gave orders quickly and coolly and did not go below to fully dress until after several of the lifeboats had been filled and lowered into the ocean.
"There was no finer man on the boat than Ismay," said Mr. Weikman. "He is a brick, a white man, and did not get a square deal in the papers. He was in one of the last boats to be lowered because I was right there helping to get them overboard."
Senate Inquiry.
Senator FLETCHER. How many men were in the boat?
Mr. ISMAY. Three - four. We found four Chinamen stowed away under the thwarts after we got away. I think they were Filipinos, perhaps. There were four of them.

Senate Inquiry
Senator BURTON. The passengers, aside from your sailors, were all women and children?
Mr. ROWE. Except Mr. Ismay and another gentleman. When daylight broke, we found four men, Chinamen, I think they were, or Filipinos.

Senator BURTON. When day broke, you found four Chinamen or Filipinos under the seats?
Mr. ROWE. Not under the seats then, sir. They came up between the seats.
Daily Enterprise (Burlington, New Jersey), April 20, 1912

Liner's Last Moments Graphically Described
- ----------
Palmyra Resident, Titantic's [sic] Barber, Tells of Thrilling Experience; Shock on Striking Iceberg was Slight; Saw Officer Shoot Man Who Tried to Climb Into Life Boat; Two Explosions Occurred
- ----------
August H. Weikman, of Palmyra, ship's barber on the Titanic, who was among those rescued, graphically described at his home yesterday the wrecking and sinking of the Titanic.
In speaking of what happened on board the Titanic Weikman said: ...
"They put the women and the children in the lifeboats and then they started to put in the crew with them. One man to every five women. When no women were near the boats they took the men, whether they were passengers or crew, anybody who stood nearest, and this accounts for the three Chinamen who were taken off.
Hudson Dispatch
Saturday 20th April 1912
Miss Elizabeth Dowdell, of 215 Park avenue, Union Hill, one of the Titanic's passengers mentioned in yesterday's issue of the Hudson Dispatch, was willing to relate some of the stories connected with her experience in the greatest sea tragedy of the world's history to one of the Dispatch reporters last evening after recovering from her nervous condition...
"Several Chinamen were clever in wrapping themselves snugly into blankets and thereby escaping and joined the women and children who had been saved..."
A Limberickwoman's Account of the Titanic Disaster's%20account.pdf

Nellie O'Dwyer was rescued from the
sinking of the Titanic by the liner
Carpathia. She had been living in
Brooklyn, New York, for six years, and
was returning to America after visiting her
parents in Limerick. She gave a dramatic
account of the nightmare to the Brooklyn
Daily Times, and the Limerick Chronicle
reprinted it at the time:
Five or six Chinamen were found at the bottom
of one boat. The way they were saved
was by fixing their hair down their
backs, and putting their blankets about
them. They were taken for women when
the boats were leaving the ship.
Titanic Ship of Dreams

Recalled by Millvina Dean:

"My mother didn’t talk about the disaster very much. She only said one or two things… I don’t think she wanted to think much about it
She told me of one or two episodes, that my father heard something had happened and came down and said ‘You’d better put something on the children and get dressed because apparently we have struck an iceberg.’ So we hurried on deck and my mother was put in a lifeboat, and my brother, and I of course went in a sack and went over… that was the last my mother saw of my father.
I remember her telling me in the lifeboat was a Chinaman and the other women there were so annoyed that a Chinaman was in there when their own men couldn’t get on that they said they would throw him overboard, but they didn’t, they thought better of it."
The Denver Post, April 19, 1912:
Two Chinamen Hidden in Lifeboat Killed by Members of the Crew.
In one of the last lifeboats launched, two Chinamen, employed in the galley, had hidden themselves. They were stretched in the bottom of the boat, faced downward, and made no sound. So excited were the women that they did not notice the presence of the Chinese until the boat had put off the liner. The Chinamen were found. The officer in charge of the boat drew his revolver and in the presence of the already horror-stricken women shot both to death. The bodies were thrown overboard.

(No survivor ever described an incident such as this in any lifeboat.)
Daily Telegraph
Saturday, April 20, 1912
                                        Chinese Stowaways
                                          Remarkable Rescue
                                         From Our Correspondent
                                           New York, Friday
Among the rescued from the sinking titanic were six Chinese, who stowed themselves away in one of the vessel's boats before she left England. When the crash came the Chinese did not become excited. They knew the lifeboat would be lowered if there was any danger of the Titanic going down. All had shawls, and when they heard the shouts of those on board, "Women to be saved first" they covered themselves with the shawls, leading the crew to believe that they were women.
In the darkness they escaped detection. It was not known that they were Chinese until they were taken on board the Carpathia. Then some of the Carpathia's crew wanted to toss them into the sea, it was said, but the officers of the Cunard vessel put them in irons instead. How the Chinese escaped being discovered by the crew of the "Titanic or some of her passengers puzzled those on board the Carpathia.
Today the Federal officials took the imprisoned Chinese while they necessary arrangements prepartory to sending them back to their native country are being made.
New York Times
Survivors Add to Disaster Tales (third column from the left)
April 20, 1912
When the revised list of survivors was made up at the White Star Line office yesterday it became known that among those saved from the Titanic were six of the eight Chinamen who were among the steerage passengers on the big liner.It seems that they climbed into one of the lifeboats without anybody making objection, despite the fact that many of the women in the steerage of the Titanic went down with the ship.
The Chinamen were taken in hand by the immigration authorities and were placed in charge of one of the Inspectors of the Chinese Bureau of the service. They are all said to be in transit, and will be constantly under the eye of immigration officials during their journey across the country. For the present they are guests of the Government on Ellis Island.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
19 April 1912,  Page 2

                                     Heroism of Anglo-Saxon Sailors Stands Out in Disaster
     The one thing upon which Anglo-Saxon sailors pride themselves today, the single leaven in the bitter loaf, is the fact that heroism was paramount at the climax of this greatest of marine disasters.
      The one dark spot is the fact that in the bottom of one lifeboat which left the Titanic were found, wedged beneath the seats, the bodies of two dead Chinese coolies and eight living ones. These were creatures on their way to New York to join a sailing ship for the Orient, and who, at the first sign of danger, had sprung into the lifeboats before they had left their davits and concealed themselves beneath the seats.  They were trampled upon by the women who were lowered into the boats later, and two of them crushed to death.
    Not until this boatload had been taken aboard the Carpathia were the bodies of these dead and living Chinese discovered.

In Debbie Beavis' book 'Who Sailed on Titanic?', the eight are listed as:
Lee Bing, 32;
Chang Chip, 32;
Choong Foo; 32;
 Ling Hee, 24;
 A H Lam, 37;
Len Lam, 23
Fong Lang, 26;
Lee Ling, 28.

Nobody knows who survived and who didn't.


Chinese Save Men First, Not Women
This story as it originally appeared in The Denver Post, April 17, 1912.

Cleveland, April 17.–Had the Titanic been a Chinese vessel, manned by Chinese sailors, not a woman or child would have been saved, according to Henry Moy Fot, special agent for the Chinese Merchants’ Association of America, who was in Cleveland today. “It is the duty of sailors when a Chinese vessel goes down to save men first, children next and women last,” said the agent. “This is on the theory that men are most valuable to the state, that adoptive parents can be found for children and that women without husbands are destitute.

East vs. West aside, Titanic tragedy highlights only stupidity
By Susanna Speier, Special to The Denver Post
Had the doomed vessel been Chinese, according to an article published in the April 17, 1912, edition of The Denver Post, the Titanic’s limited supply of lifeboats would have spelled imminent doom for every woman and child aboard the ship.
If the report’s author was aware that then 19-year-old On Leong Chinese Merchants’ Association of America that sourced the statement was New York’s “brains behind the gangs,” there was no mention. The writer appeared unphased also by the fact that the organization’s apparent spokesperson, Henry Moy Fot, went by the title “Special Agent.”
A look at Frances Wayne’s April 18, 1912, editorial Women Must Explain Why They Abandoned Mates in Death offers a potential clue as to why that April 17th story was placed. Frances “Pinky” Wayne was one of Denver’s top reporters at the time. In addition to writing for The Post, she served as Denver Women’s Press Club President and organized big annual gala charitable fundraisers. She had her pick of the scoops traditionally reserved for men and the individual byline was a less common distinction, then.
Susanna Speier works in social media and digital journalism. Her writing credits include Scientific American, The Huffington Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Colorado Biz Magazine.
As Special Agent Moy was contextualizing “men are most valuable to the state,” to his uncredited interviewer, Pinky was probably running around Denver grilling prominent socialites on what-if scenarios. Knowing her outspoken disdain for the “unwritten law of the sea” might ruffle some feathers also could have prompted the editors to publish the Chinese maritime article. It is unlikely Chinese maritime code was driving the keystrokes of someone who spent most of her life in Colorado.
At the same time, Wayne took to the concept that the Chinese code, “which holds that the good of all society, and not of the individual is the thing that is to be considered.” She even defends the perspective “that adoptive parents can be found for children and that women without husbands are destitute.”
“Children, if cared for, will grow into worthy citizens–wherefore, they must be saved in times of peril and the state becomes their mother. Men are necessary to the world’s work and human advancement; they, too, must be pushed forward. As for the women–their service in child bearing accomplished, they may be dispensed with.”
Wayne’s simultaneous call to ”follow the saner, more just way” does not hold back from specifying, “those nations which we regard as ‘heathen’” or from lamenting the fact that “widows and orphans are all that remain of that ship’s goodly cargo.”
Was this simply another instance of Asian cultures and stereotypes being nurtured abroad? Puccini’s Madame Butterfly — probably the West’s most iconic interpolation of Eastern self sacrifice — had premiered in Europe eight years prior to Titanic and would have been staged in London, Paris and New York by that point.
In 1948, China had an infamous maritime disaster of its own to contend with. The available rescue coverage and surviving film footage show no evidence of a gender-based preferential evacuation being enforced by SS Kiangya’s crew members or by its rescue teams.
“Passengers on the lower decks had little chance for escape. Some 700 who managed to reach the safety of the top deck stood in cold water waisthigh, screaming for help. One hysterical woman threw her child overboard because her husband was lost; others were pushed off in the struggle for standing room,” according to the Time Magazine account of the tragedy.
While the Time report of the Kiangya’s evacuation could also be riddled with inaccuracies due to cultural stereotyping, it is nevertheless worth noting that many women and children did not make it off the Titanic. Technically speaking, more 1st class men were saved than 3rd class children, and many of the men who forfeited their lives did so by choice — not by necessity.
According to The Denver Post’s April 19th article Astor spurned chance to escape and died as hero, both John Jacob Astor and Captain Smith were offered and refused seats on lifeboats that ended up leaving only half full.
The Titanic disaster was one of few events in US History that single-handedly swallowed the most accomplished engineers, philanthropists, industrialists and business entrepreneurs of their day. Wayne’s choice to condemn the West’s maritime evacuation code and venerate the perceived Chinese code probably served as a conveniently cogent way to anesthetize the sting of the actual tragedy. It also might have helped defuse a harder, colder truth beneath the surface — one that Wayne and her readers might not have been ready to identify, let alone confront: Titanic had more to do with stupidity than with heroism.
–Susanna Speier, April 11, 2012
Susanna Speier works in social media and digital journalism. Her writing credits include Scientific American, The Huffington Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Colorado Biz Magazine. Her plays have been produced at HERE Arts Center, The Cocteau, The World Financial Center, The Tenri and Galapagos Arts Space. She has a Masters in Playwriting from Brooklyn College, C.U.N.Y., and wrote and produced her first play, Under Titanic, as her undergraduate thesis at Hampshire College. Find her on Twitter:

1 comment:

  1. The stories about the eight Chinese boarding the sinking Titanic contradict each other. Thus, all of people who told their stories, except possibly at most one, were shamelessly lairs.

    The Chinese were named stowaways; but they bought the ticket at about 59 pounds, with names listed on boarding passengers.