19 Years After ‘Golden Venture’ Tragedy, Survivors Have Moved on

On June 6, 1993, a Chinese ship, named “Golden Venture” left its 300 passengers in cold waters off  Rockaway Beach. The ship’s would-be migrants had paid a $3,000 down payment to smugglers in order to settle in the United States. Ten of the passengers drowned while several others had to be hospitalized. Nineteen years later, World Journal revisited the tragic incident, and interviewed several sources who shared their stories. The article is translated from Chinese below. 

In 1993, the Golden Venture incident made headlines across the world.  Most of the ship’s 300 passengers  hailed from the Chinese province of Fujian. Ten drowned and died. After 19 years, many people may have forgotten the incident, but there are many others who still remember the deadly tragedy.  Approximately half of the passengers who boarded the ship when they were young have stayed in the United States. After years of hard work, many of them have established themselves.  Most of the remaining passengers have returned to China to invest in a business or live a semi-retired lifestyle.

“Many of the immigrants came from poor families, where they only owned one pair of pants,” [one man, who the World Journal refers to as] Lin, recalled.  “The husband and wife would wear the pair alternately if one of them needed to go out. The children would wear a hand-me-down.  At the same time, because many of the young men were very poor, they could not find themselves a wife.”

“During the 1990s, the rural areas in Fujian were very poor,” Lin added. “Each family had many children. Many people were hungry.  Most of the time, the parents and their six or seven children would sleep on the same bed.  They didn’t even have a blanket to share.”

“Hard menial labor would only earn these immigrants a few bucks,” said Guangxiang Zhu, president of the Fuzhou Lanqi Association. “Many immigrants were illegally smuggled into the United States out of financial pressure.”

Zhu, who was smuggled into the country and later became a citizen, said that one of the Golden Venture survivors, nicknamed “Gong Fan,” was his childhood playmate. He said Gong Fan was initially detained but later obtained legal status and worked in a restaurant.

“In order to make a living, these immigrants had to gamble with their lives,”  said Xueshun Chen, vice chairman of the Fukien American Association.  “After many rounds of struggle, hardship and risks, they carried debts in order to come to the United States. Their hometown was simply too poor.  At the time, Golden Venture’s passengers came from poor villages in Fujian.”

According to Patrick Radden, author of “The Snakehead,” and Peter Cohn, director of the documentary “Golden Venture,” fishermen from the Fujian area have always had an adventurous spirit when it comes to traveling overseas to make a living in places such as Southeast Asia and Taiwan. They said that most Fujianese want to seek a better and prosperous life and use political asylum as a way to seek legal status in the United States.

Shi-Gong Cheng, chair of the Fukien Hall, said that the Golden Venture smugglers were mostly young men in their 20s.  He explained that about half of them found a way to remain in the United States and have become restaurant owners.

According to Jiangrong Chen, vice chairman of Fukien American Association, illegal smuggling from Fujian hit its peak during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chen said that many smugglers wanted to change their own fate and give their children a better future by achieving the “American Dream.” He added that many of the former Golden Venture passengers now have a car, a house and a business.  Some of them, he said, have children who attend prestigious universities.

Cheng said that a number of Golden Venture smugglers have returned to China to invest in a business.  He noted that many of them have also decided to retire in China because their hometowns now have better a quality of life.

Edited by Justin Chan

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