There were eight Chinese passengers aboard Titanic, all of them sailors who found themselves out of work because of the coal strike in Britain.
All were reassigned to a Donald Line freighter, Annetta, which was docked in New York and chartered by the Atlantic Fruit Company to sail to Cuba. From there, the sailors hoped to make their way back to Hong Kong.
The Lams were Cantonese; the others were British subjects from Hong Kong. Bing Lee was married, all the others were single. Asians, even if they travelled on British passports, were marginalized in Europe and North America in 1912. They were tolerated but not accepted in society and would have been shunned and not have been able to socialize with other steerage passengers aboard Titanic.
Perhaps because they were sailors and knew the inner workings of a ship, all of them made it into the lifeboats, but only six survived. According to one newspaper, the two who died, Len Lam and Ling Lee, hid themselves under the slats in the lifeboat and were “crushed to death by the weight of the other passengers sitting on top of them. ” In fact, they probably died of hypothermia.
There is disagreement over which boats they escaped in. Four of the men are thought to have escaped in Collapsible C, one possibly in lifeboat 13 and the sixth was picked up from the water by the sailors in lifeboat 14.
Re: Collapsible C.
According to Mrs Frank Goldsmith some of the Chinese sailors were discovered when Murdoch and Wilde attempted to prevent a rush on Collapsible C. Four of the Chinese sailors allegedly refused to get out of the boat and hid down among the women passengers; Mrs Goldsmith said that the officer didn't dare fire at them for fear of hitting the women, so the boat was eventually lowered away with four of the Chinese sailors still aboard.
Board of Trade Inquiry
14001 Ultimately she was filled with women, the collapsible boat?
Yes, I believe it was a new boat, where a couple of Phillipinos or Chinese got in, they stowed away under the thwarts or something. But for that there were no men except crew - except the men I ordered in.
Quartermaster George Rowe and Bruce Ismay testified that the men were only discovered after the boat had been lowered.
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. Were those additional to the 39?
Mr. ROWE. Yes, sir.
Senator BURTON. All the rest of the 39 were women and children, except two, Mr. Ismay and another gentleman?
Mr. ROWE. Yes, sir.
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.
Board of Trade Inquiry
17646. And the rest of the people were what?
What I thought were women and children.
17647. Did they prove to be women and children? –
No, not at daybreak.
17648. Why? Tell us about that? -
I found four Chinamen aboard.
17649. Where were they? –
I could not see at the time.
17650. They were in the boat somewhere? -
They were in there at daybreak.
17651. How they got in you do not know, I suppose? -
17652. (The Commissioner.) Were they all women and children, with the exception of three Chinamen? -
Four Chinamen and Mr. Ismay and Mr. Carter.
17653. I have two male passengers. Were the rest all women and children with the exception of the crew and the four Chinamen?
And the two gentlemen.
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.
Board of Trade Inquiry.
18563.Am I right, then, in this, that there were women and children and some members of the crew to man the boat and two passengers, yourself and Mr. Carter?
Yes, and four Chinamen were in the boat.
18564.Four Chinamen who, we have heard, were discovered after the boat was lowered?
Senator SMITH. I would like to know how many first-class male passengers there were.
Mr. RAY. I could not say, sir. There was one Japanese. I remember a Japanese, very well, being there. I have no idea, because I could not discriminate second from third class passengers.
Re: Lifeboat 14
One of the other sailors, identity not definitely established but sometimes listed as Fang Lang, was later found, lashed to a door or board by Officer Lowe when he took lifeboat 14 back to pick up survivors from the water. This fact was verified by Saloon Steward: George Frederick Crowe:
Mr. CROWE. ... also a Japanese or Chinese young fellow that we picked up on top of some of the wreckage - it might have been a sideboard or table - that was floating around...
A little further on, we saw a floating door that must have been torn loose when the ship went down. Lying upon it, face downward, was a small Japanese. He had lashed himself with a rope to his frail raft, using the broken hinges to make the knots secure. As far as we could see, he was dead. The sea washed over him every time the door bobbed up and down, and he was frozen stiff. He did not answer when he was hailed, and the officer hesitated about trying to save him.
"What's the use?" said Mr. Lowe. He's dead, likely, and if he isn't there's others better worth saving than a Jap!"
He had actually turned our boat around; but he changed his mind and went back. The Japanese was hauled on board, and one of the women rubbed his chest, while others chafed his hands and feet. In less time than it takes to tell, he opened his eyes. He spoke to us in his own tongue; then, seeing that we did not understand, he struggled to his feet, stretched his arms above his head, stamped his feet, and in five minutes or so had almost recovered his strength. One of the sailors near to him was so tired that he could hardly pull his oar. The Japanese bustled over, pushed him from his seat, took the oar and worked like a hero until we were finally picked up. I saw Mr. Lowe watching him in open-mouthed surprise.
"By Jove!" muttered the officer. "I'm ashamed of what I said about the little blighter. I'd save the likes o' him six times over, if I got the chance."
Once the six survivors arrived in New York, they were detained, “placed under guard by U.S. Immigration officers,” and immediately escorted to the Annetta, which sailed the next day for Cuba. Four of the survivors later filed damage claims with the White Star Line: Chip Chang for $177, Fang Lang, for $137, and Bing Lee $99.34 and Ling Lee’s wife filed for $91.05 for the loss of her husband,
Charlotte Collyer: The Semi-Monthly Magazine, May 1912, How I was Saved from the Titanic Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55)
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (Date: 18th-19th June 1912, Ship: Carpathia) - National Archives, NWCTB 85 T715 Vol 4183
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
Wreck Commissioners' Court, Proceedings before the Right Hon. Lord Mersey on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade into the Loss of the S.S. Titanic