xi's moments

A project with a gigantic goal: recreating the Titanic

By William Hennelly | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-09 00:25

An aerial view of the construction of a full-scale replica of the Titanic passenger ocean liner in Daying county, Suining city, Sichuan province. [Photo/VCG] 

Will Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet lend some glamour to the launch?

Aerial images were published recently on the progress of a true-to-scale replica of the ill-fated Titanic ocean liner under construction on a riverbank in Southwest China's Sichuan province.

Easily the world's most famous shipwreck, the Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world in the 1910s and was designed to be "unsinkable".

The 1997 eponymous movie, a fictionalized retelling of the Titanic's tragic sinking in 1912, is arguably just as famous. Starring romantic leads Di Caprio and Winslet, Titanic won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and is enormously popular in China.

In 2014, Bernard Hill, who portrayed Titanic Captain Edward Smith in James Cameron's film, attended a news conference in Hong Kong, where he was named the new ship's honorary captain.

It was the big-screen version of Titanic that inspired Seven Star Energy Investment CEO Su Shaojun to invest 1 billion yuan ($145.6 million) to create a 21st century Titanic.

Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group Co is constructing the replica at the Romandisea Seven Star International Cultural Tourism Resort, on a bank of the Qijiang River in Suining city, Daying county.

GC Tech Inc, a Los Angeles firm, was hired to design the ship.

"I thought rebuilding the Titanic would be meaningful," Su told NPR in 2018. "It was very touching to see people give others the chance to live.

"We Chinese can turn a bad thing into a good thing," he said. "We want to let people learn from history."

In researching this column, I found that China Daily published at least 10 stories since 2013 about Su's plans, probably because the ship's completion date kept getting pushed back. It was supposed to be finished in 2017; the talk now is this year or next.

Su's company originally promised a "hitting the iceberg experience", where visitors could experience what it's like to be on a sinking ship. But it shelved the idea after descendants of survivors objected.

"We might still do that," Su told NPR, "but we won't call it 'hitting the iceberg.' We just want to show that people should let women and children go first when facing a disaster."

Su told The Straits Times in 2016 that "after the RMS Titanic sank, nobody saw its complete set of blueprints. Many blueprint fragments found their way into the hands of collectors or remained missing. We spent many years collecting the blueprints from many parts of the world and managed to obtain most of them."

The original Titanic was 269 meters (882 feet) long and 28 meters wide. The replica will include banquet halls, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, Turkish baths, a theater and a copy of the original engine. It also will feature ballroom dancing and Las Vegas-style entertainment.

Rooms on the ship will cost from 3,000 yuan ($444) a night for a cabin to 100,000 yuan (nearly $14,800) for luxury accommodations.

When I first read about Su's plan, it brought to mind a story I had written about abandoned shopping malls in the US and China, and how some of them were being repurposed. There is a sprawling, vacant shopping mall in Shanghai shaped like the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

Although a Chinese government directive in 2016 called for a halt to "oversized" and "weird" architecture, I don't think the Titanic replica falls into that category.

It should prove to be an attraction not just in China but for people around the world, in particular movie buffs.

The original RMS Titanic was a British passenger ocean liner that hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.

Of the more than 2,200 passengers on board, some 1,500 perished.

Some of the world's wealthiest people were on board, including John Jacob Astor IV, great grandson of the founder of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, which incidentally was purchased in 2014 by Chinese insurance giant Anbang, which since has run into financial difficulties.

It wasn't until 1985 that the Titanic's remains were found in two pieces on the ocean floor.

"Romandisea will … become a world-class tourist destination with a noble soul and spiritual pursuit," Su told the Daily Express of London.

Contact the writer at williamhennelly@chinadailyusa.com

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