Chinese Survivors of the Titanic - Interview with the director of the documentary 'The Six' on Shanghai New York University
2023-06-02 上午 10:04   作者:translated by fang bochen   


  While almost all the survivors of the sinking of the Titanic were returned to New York harbour on 14 April 1912, only six Chinese survivors, who were rescued and deported from the United States within 24 hours, had their escape barely recorded, if at all, deliberately erased. Directed by Fei Luo and produced by James Cameron, the documentary Six: Chinese Survivors of the Titanic re-focuses on the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, travelling to more than 20 cities at home and abroad, including Taishan, Jiangmen, over a period of six years to restore the experiences and life trajectories of these six men who escaped death in the most extreme maritime disaster in human history.

  The Yinxin Exhibition Hall at Haikoubu of the South Chnia Historical Trail suggests adding a new page for this story, a story of an early Chinese worker from Taishan who earned a living in North America that has not received enough attention in Guangdong It is fortunate that this documentary restores the historical reality of the sinking ship, as the villagers of Shui Yang, Taishan, showed their bravery and wisdom, as well as their compassion and the traditional Chinese act of benevolence. The documentary features interviews with descendants of the Shui Yeung village showing letters and money received from the United States in the early years, a representative and historically valuable archive of silver letters. If the letters are collected, I hope that Haikoubu will see one or two silver letters full of tears and courage to be shown in the future. I recommend this article as a tribute to our forefathers who floated across the sea to make a living. (Ari)

  While more than 700 survivors of the 1912 Titanic wreck were transported by lifeboat to New York harbor, six Chinese survivors were deported from the port just 24 hours after arrival, disappearing from the historical narrative. Shanghai-based British filmmaker Fei Luo (Arthur Jones) and his team have been exploring the experiences and eventual trajectories of these six men since 2015, in the documentary The Six: Chinese Survivors of the Titanic (hereafter referred to as 'The Six').

  On 21 October, Fei Luo (Arthur Jones) visited the NYU Before and after the screening, the film shares with the audience about the difficulties encountered in uncovering these untold stories, and the xenophobic, racism and anti-immigrant policies of the past and present that they reflect.

  The Six has been screened at film festivals around the world, including in Canada, China and Thailand, and had its US premiere at the Immigration Film Festival in Washington DC this month, where it won the award for Best Historical Documentary.


Pictured is director Fei Luo.

  How did you discover the story line and finally decide to make the film?

  About six years ago, my friend Steven Schwankert approached me with a proposal to collaborate on a documentary about the Chinese survivors of the Titanic. My first reaction at the time was, "There were Chinese people on the Titanic?!" During the production, every time I talked to people about the film, people almost always had the same reaction. The sinking of the Titanic is the most famous maritime disaster of all time, yet almost no one knew that there were Chinese people on board. Our motivation was then sparked to take on what at the time seemed impossible.

  There were over 700 survivors of the Titanic and at least among their own nationals, almost everyone's story is well known. When I was a child, there was an old lady who survived the Titanic and lived across the road from our house, everyone had heard her story. A quick search on the internet would have found her birth date, descendants and life story, as well as her experiences on the Titanic, and similarly for the other survivors. Only the story of the six Chinese people in the film is little known.

  How did the six people get on the boat? How did they come back from the dead?

  They were professional crew members, but they were not working on the Titanic at the time, but were ordinary passengers in the lowest class cabin. With their experience and agility, they chose a different escape route to most people and were the first to reach the top deck and make it to the lifeboats.

  Why has their story been lost to history? What was the surviving narrative about them when you first started your research and filming?

  The deeper we searched, the more we suspected that this was the result of rumors. In 1912, some reports in the British and American press suggested that the six men had used dishonorable means to survive, such as claiming that they had "posed as women in order to board a lifeboat", "hidden under the seats of a lifeboat", or that they were "stowaways". ", or that they "identified as stowaways". Were these allegations related to the discrimination faced by Chinese immigrants who had left their homeland to work and settle overseas? The clues to the story are growing, while the hope of digging out the truth from the fabricated stories seems to be getting slimmer and slimmer.


The picture shows the footage of the shoot. (Contributed by:

  What was the biggest obstacle in the making of the film? How did you overcome it?

  The biggest obstacle in the research process was that, for a variety of reasons, the archival records left by Chinese in China and overseas do not match, and the names in the archives are particularly unreliable. In the course of our research, we found lists of eight Chinese passengers, six of whom survived, but the two lists we were given had different spellings, ages and hometowns of the passengers' names - one said one passenger was from mainland China, the other said from Hong Kong, China. We asked several genealogists for help, but were politely refused. They said, "I'm very sorry, but it's just too difficult to track down the genealogy of overseas Chinese - once you get to places like the US or the UK, a three-character name can become a two-character name and you can hardly know who they really are and where they come from."

  Our investigation was greatly complicated by the immigration system of the time, which gave overseas Chinese every reason to hide their original identity information and change their identity.

  Additionally, turning the complex research into a visual story is a major challenge of the film production. This is why the post-production cycle for the entire film took over a year.

  Is there any difference between Chinese audiences and overseas audiences in terms of how they feel about this film?

  There is a term in the documentary field called 'revisioning' - when a film is made and then another version is cut to suit a certain market. I have always been against this practice. I don't think that once Chinese audiences go to the cinema, they will necessarily react in a very different way. Of course, we do want the audience to fully appreciate the film, but overall, I don't think there are any significant differences between audiences in different regions, or I certainly don't deliberately cater for such differences. My approach to making a film is to shoot it and cut it until I'm comfortable with it. For me, making a film is not about perfection, but more like making pottery, polishing it until it looks acceptable.

  Generally speaking, audiences enjoyed the film - most gave it an 8 out of 10 and said they enjoyed it. There may have been viewers who expected it to be similar to Titanic. But they'll probably watch it and ask, "What's with all the information? Are we in a library doing research? Where's the shipwreck?"

  While traditional documentaries usually use narration to tell the story from beginning to end, we made the bold decision to step away from tradition and choose to tell the story from the researcher's point of view. This perspective makes the outcome seem more uncertain - which is exactly the way I wanted it to be.

  Many comments online said, "Oh my God, I cried" or "We brought our son along to see it and he had no interest in history before but he think it was pretty great. And now he wants to be a researcher!" This feedback was echoed by audiences everywhere the film was shown.


Pictured is a staged photo of The Six. (Contribution:

  Do you have more discoveries after the film has been shot ?

  I'm glad there weren't any other major discoveries. A lot of people have emailed in saying, "The guy in the story is my friend's uncle," but a bit of investigation reveals that they just have the same surname, which doesn't prove anything. If a lead seems plausible, we'll certainly look into it, but too many leads are spurious because people want to have something to do with the Titanic - which is not surprising.

  Now, we have slightly opened the door to the Chinese story. Before, people didn't want to discuss these stories because they subconsciously thought, "Did they do something wrong?" I think our work dispels that misconception. The telling of these stories by KwokMan Fong (the American-born, son of one of the survivors) and his family has helped the general public to pay more attention to Chinese history. Their open and gentle approach is also an encouragement to the other Chinese survivors and families.


  (This article is recommended by Arui. It was originally published on the official website of NYU SHANGHAI in and compiled by South Chian Historical Trail. If there is any problem with copyright, please contact South Chian Historical Trail.)