Titanic documentary strives to unearth real story behind Chinese survivors

Updated 2017-09-20 10:30:54 Global Times

They were unfairly accused of being dressed like women to get onto lifeboats

○ The last person to board the lifeboat from the sinking Titanic is believed to be a Chinese, according to foreign and Chinese experts.

○ Eight Chinese passengers were on the Titanic before it sank during its maiden voyage in 1912, and only six of them survived.

○ The Chinese survivors were seen as coward or despicable in the U.S. because of the anti-Chinese sentiment and rampant racism in the U.S. at that time, said a Chinese expert.

Not many Chinese know that the last person to board the lifeboat from the sinking Titanic in 1912 was a Chinese. Out of a total of eight Chinese aboard the "unsinkable ship," only six survived.

The stories of the six Chinese survivors, however, were reported overseas after the shipwreck, in which they were depicted as cowards who sneaked into the boat or as despicable men who stole the chance of survival from others by "dressing as women."

There were 712 survivors among the 2,207 aboard the ship. The 75 percent survival rate of the Chinese was the third-highest following Spanish and Japanese.

To British filmmaker Arthur Jones, it seems unbelievable that none of the Chinese survivors came to the spotlight, and that people in China did not even know there's an incredible Chinese story behind the epic tragedy.

Jones and his team are shooting a documentary named The Six, which presents the story of the Chinese survivors and their descendants. The China part of the shooting is scheduled for October and the film is expected to be released early next year.

"It's not a story of disgraceful and terrible behavior, but largely a positive story about how the eight tried to survive, though the two did not make it," Jones told the Global Times on Monday.

"And the story deserves to be told and in a way that is respectful and faithful," he added.

Locating descendants

For Jones and his team, an important part of presenting the truth is to find the descendants to tell the Chinese story behind the incident, but it is incredibly challenging.

The six sailors were traveling around in the 1920s and they were disconnected from their roots in China. Another challenge is getting information from people who might know something but they are not sure of whether what they know is true, said Jones.

"In most cases, including the descendants that are currently living in China, they have a feeling that they are connected to the story, but they are never sure about it," he added.

The team first tried online, where they did not find actual evidence of what they were looking for but they did find the indirect connections, or "shadows," of potential descendants.

There were people who believed they were the descendants and approached the team via social media. The team then worked with them to trace the real descendants.

The names of the Chinese onboard are recorded in materials related to the Titanic, but the names are spelled differently in different files. Having got the names, Jones' team turned to phone books to try and connect them via phone calls or emails.

The search for descendants used varied methods, such as drawing a line in a map from where the potential descendants live now to the nearest place that the survivor was connected to.

The efforts have paid off, and so far, Jones and his team have traced descendants to the UK, U.S., Cuba and Canada.

"We found new information that was never known before about all of the six," said Jones, adding that they have found "several" descendants and their families living in and outside of China, including one near Shanghai and another near Chicago.

The search for the descendants is ongoing, and Jones' team will go to Taishan in South China's Guangdong Province this year.

The survivors

According to Encyclopedia Titanica, a website offering extensive Titanic facts, history and biography, eight Chinese boarded Titanic in England. The six survivors were from Hong Kong, aged 24 to 37, and only one of them was married.

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