The Six: The Chinese Survivors of the Titanic Disaster: Maritime China 4

August 2023

Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board RMS Titanic on her fateful last journey, eight were Chinese, all travelling Third Class. Six of those eight survived, an exceptionally high survival rate for any given nationality. Remarkably, four escaped on the same lifeboat as the Titanic’s owner J. Bruce Ismay, while another was the last person rescued alive from the water. Those six men were forgotten by history until, in 2020, the film maker Arthur Jones and historian Steven Schwankert joined forces in a bid to track down those men in the historical records and tell their stories. Not only does the research itself tell a fabulous tale, but so too does the history they uncovered. For these Chinese men, surviving the Titanic disaster was not the end of their troubles – it was just the beginning. They faced deportations, slurs on their characters and racial condemnation. As research for the film progressed it became clear that almost nothing was known about these man in their subsequent years and that some may never even have told their families what they had experienced. To find out more Dr Sam Willis spoke with Arthur Jones, Director of The Six.

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    Sam Willis
    From the Society for Nautical Research in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis and this is the Mariner’s Mirror podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. Hello everyone and welcome to the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast. Today we continue our exploration of maritime China but before we do that, I promised I’d read out any reviews we get. So here we go. We’ve had a couple of fantastic five star reviews. This is from the brilliant Ziggy Austin who runs Rock Solid Coasteering. So if by any chance you’re in South Devon do go along. I can vouch from personal experience how much fun it is. Ziggy writes five stars. As a man of the sea. This podcast is like sweet nectar, I’m always looking for material to turn into sea shanties and stories for my clients and children. This podcast is a deep treasure chest of maritime gold sunken in an ocean of research and passion. Dr. Sam is an easy listen with an engaging style, how he finds all his guest speakers I do not know but they are often brilliant and really bring the varied subjects to life. The most recent episode on castaways is great and more of this please, Sam, we love gore and peculiarities. Have you done medicine at sea or punishment? Well, I do recommend Ziggy that you go back and listen to our episode on Nelson’s wounds, which is truly fantastic. And also everyone out there. If you’ve got suggestions on stories that involve gore and peculiarities, let me know and I’ll see if I can get them sorted. We have another review from TBEBCM. What a mouthful, that is at five stars at what a fantastic podcast. Each episode presents a different and often overlooked aspect of maritime history with fascinating guests and a lively conversation. Although some subjects are quite technical, they’re always easily explained. So not only are you being entertained, you also learn a thing or two, as well. Definitely recommend for those in love with the sea and its history. Thank you so much. We want more reviews like this, because it helps us spread the word to meet our challenge of teaching the world about the importance and downright fun of maritime history. But back to the topic at hand, it’s maritime China again. So far we’ve heard about the great 15th century Chinese explorer Zeng He and his seven amazing voyages in which he reached the Arabian Sea and East Africa and everywhere else. Along the way. Of course, we’ve heard about the archaeological excavations of mediaeval Chinese trading vessels in Southeast Asia, we’ve heard about the amazing Maze Collection of junk and sampan models in the collections of London’s Science Museum. Today, we are hearing about what I think is one of the great investigative research stories in maritime history of recent years. It’s the previously untold story of the six Chinese survivors of the Titanic. We know there were eight Chinese male passengers on board the Titanic, all travelling third class and this is the story of the six that made it. Remarkably four escaped on the same lifeboat as the Titanic owner, J. Bruce Isme, while another was the last person rescued alive from the water. For these men surviving the Titanic disaster was not the end of their troubles. It was just the beginning. They faced deportation, slurs on their characters and condemnation through racism. As research for the film progressed, it became clear that almost nothing was known about these men in their subsequent years, and that some of them may never have even told their families what they had experienced. The film was executive produced by James Cameron, who was director of the Titanic film, and it was directed by Arthur Jones. Now it just so happens that I’ve recently returned from filming a new series in China and the director I worked with was none other than….. Arthur Jones. So in between looking at mysterious masks made in bronze age, Chinese civilizations and hiking up mountains and looking at some of the earliest forms of Chinese writing inscribed on turtle shells, I made Arthur sit down and tell us all about his fabulous Titanic project. As ever, I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I enjoyed talking with him. Here is the multitalented ever entertaining and enormously good fun. It’s Arthur.

    Sam Willis
    Arthur, thank you very much for joining me this morning.

    Arthur Jones
    Absolute pleasure. Sam. Thanks so much for having me.

    Sam Willis
    I should just say for all of our listeners that Arthur and I have been travelling around China for several weeks not too long ago making a film so why don’t we talk briefly about what we’ve been doing?

    Arthur Jones
    Well, I mean, we were working on two episodes of our NAT Nat Geo National Geographic Channel series called Ancient China from above. And our main focus was on two archaeological sites. One of them the the tomb of the Qing emperor in in Shanxi Province, in northwest China and the other this extraordinary site called Sanxingdui in Sichuan province where they have these Bronze Age magnificent ritual heads, gold discoveries and all the rest of it, no, all of this has just come out of the ground in the last sort of 15, 20 years or so, with new pits being opened all time. So we had the pleasure of being there with you, Sam, and watching you wander around and see see a lot of it for the first time, you know, face to face.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah, it was wonderful. And we were using photogrammetry and LIDAR. So some good modern technology, allowing us to look at these well known sites, but from completely different perspectives. Arthur was directing everything, and it was very enjoyable travelling around China with someone who has lived there for many years. How long have you been in China?

    Arthur Jones
    I keep saying 25 years, but I think I’ve slipped past 25. And I’m heading rapidly towards 30. Yes.

    Sam Willis
    Well, it’s an impressive stint. I always know I need to come home after three weeks. I love it. I love it. But But yeah, I do like coming home. So staying there is really quite impressive. You’re calling us from in Shanghai.

    Arthur Jones
    I’m in Shanghai right now. Yes. Yeah,

    Sam Willis
    it was while we were working, Arthur was telling me about his other projects that he’d done. And one of which is called The Six which is a it’s a brilliant idea and a magnificent achievement. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. So Arthur, why don’t you just begin by telling us? How did the project begin?

    Arthur Jones
    Well, I’ve been working with a friend of mine called Steven Schwankert on another film previously, and we kind of come up with the idea of doing instead of

    Sam Willis
    just gonna jump in, that’s the Poseidon because I’ve spoken to Steven about the Poseidon. So the, that’s going to be broadcast very soon as part of this series, everyone, you’re gonna get to hear from Steven, Arthur’s friend at all about this amazing British submarine, which, which sank in the 30s, wasn’t it and then was secretly salvaged by the Chinese in the

    1970s. Ya know, it’s an extraordinary story. And Steven Steven, I had made the Poseidon project as a kind of calling card for what we felt was a new genre, at least for China, which was the idea of kind of detective history, documentaries, rather than telling the story of something that’s already been well established, we thought, let’s tell the story of being on the road and trying to work it out ourselves, piece it together, archives, you know, sort of at the coalface looking for things potentially underwater, all that kind of stuff, which combined a lot of Stevens interests in maritime history with my interest in, in, in well in documentaries, but particularly in investing investigative documentary documentaries. So having made that one having made the Poseidon project, it became a kind of calling card for that type of film. And a lot of people liked it a lot. And, I mean, we made it for a very low budget. And it was really the two of us, I co directed with my brother Luther. And we, it was a very small outfit, we basically shot it ourselves. But the fundamental idea, the format, if you like it, that documentary, became something we were quite excited to find another one to do. And we thought, well, let’s go for a bigger one. Let’s go for something that’s more instantly recognisable. And Steven had been occasionally mentioning, over the last couple of years of that project. Oh, you know, at some point, we should do something about the Chinese on Titanic. There was another film we thought about doing about a big Chinese shipwreck as well. And we kept referring to it as the Chinese Titanic. So it sort of felt inevitable Titanic began to seep into our, into our bones in a way. And in the end, I think it was the reaction of Chinese friends that persuaded me that this one really had legs because I would say to friends, well we’re thinking about doing this story about the Chinese people who were on Titanic, and they’d say, Oh, is that like a movie or something? I’d say no, well, it’s no there were Chinese people on Titanic. And we were thinking about making a film about who they were and why nobody knows where they went, and all that kind of stuff. And they’d say, are you serious, were there actually Chinese people on Titanic because it always seems such a strange paradox that Titanic the movie, the Cameron movie was such a massive hit in China and continues to be a kind of definitional film here. And yet, no one knew anything about there being Chinese on board. And that’s odd to me, particularly because although I was not a sort of maritime history, nerd when I was a kid, I wasn’t that kind of a little boy growing up. I did you know, the importance of Titanic is obvious sort of culturally. And in fact, I grew up in a village in Lincolnshire part of my childhood where there was a woman, an elderly woman who lived across the Green, who, at least locally, we all said was a Titanic survivor. So it was that kind of thing where you thought, well, you can’t have Titanic survivors, and not knowing, you know, from your own country, your own area and not know who they are. And in this case, there were six survivors, out of eight Chinese passengers, and we thought, well, how is it possible that people don’t know who they are or where they went or really anything about them. And that was the beginning of the, of the motivation for spending so long making it

    Sam Willis
    and you said you wanted to do make a film that was investigative, and you certainly gave yourself a significant challenge, because it turned out pretty quickly that no one really knew anything at all about these people.

    Well, absolutely. And in fact, like everything else in the world of Titanic, the the scant evidence there was that they even existed, had been largely rejected as, as decent evidence by the Titanic community, they’d said, Well, those names are clearly badly transcribed. They’re not, they’re not in Chinese for a start. So they’re sort of badly trans transcribed anglicised versions of their names. And when we looked at this list of eight Chinese passenger names, some of them it’s became clear fairly early on were not real names, or that at least, they were not long enough to be real names. They were all for example, they were all two character names. And as you all know, Sam, having spent time in China, most people nowadays are three character names, although you do get two character names, but you certainly wouldn’t expect a list of eight people to just randomly allll have two characters. And then we began to realise that in fact, a lot of Chinese names transcribed in the West, pre 1950s 1960s, were written down as just two names, probably we think, and people have said to us, just because it’s very inconvenient to have to say more sounds that people don’t really know how to write down so you’d simplify it. But over time, we discovered that those even the two names that we had for each of those people were largely inaccurate, in many cases,

    Sam Willis
    fake names, question of nicknames or whether it was a fake name, but the nickname idea I thought was really interesting. Was it? Ah Li. Ah Lam was one of the ones.

    Yeah, that’s right. Well, yes, that’s right. Well, you’re saying Ali was interesting, because Ah Lam we now know him to be a man who travelled under name Ah Lam. What’s complicated is that for 100 years in history, textbooks and history books about Titanic where there have been lists that have included of his in his name, when it’s been transcribed, typed up, they’ve written it as Ali Lam, you know, there’s a scene in the film, just because they’ve, they’ve misread the way that the A and the H, the the cursive H from the 1910s. And they’ve written it as Ali. And that’s the kind of mistake we discovered all the way through this project where any, wherever anybody had actually spent any reasonable and serious time looking at this, they’d made real sort of novice mistakes like that, if you know anything about China, you’d know that Ali couldn’t really be a name here, it’s not the kind of name that people would have. But whereas Ah, ah, as it was written at the time, these days, it’d be it would be written just a, but at the time, ah, is a kind of diminutive, it’s a calling somebody little Johnny or something like this. It’s just a diminished. So he’s a cool little lam. That’s what his name is really. Ah lam, which, of course, makes it even more complicated, because probably he had a three character name, whereas we’ve got him now down to basically Little John, or L`ittle Ben, nothing else to go on?

    Sam Willis
    Yeah, really difficult. And there are other names, which were incredibly common, so common, in fact that you couldn’t trace them. I thought it was interesting. Tell us about that.

    Well, for us, it was we had this question people kept saying they would say, what would you do if you can’t find someone who can’t find anything or you get it wrong or something. And I always felt like, one of the advantages of this form of documentary of storytelling is that you can be honest about your feelings. You know, you can say we couldn’t find this or we found this we thought for a long time, it was this bloke, but it turned out we were wrong. And in a way, in a movie, you might have car chases and gunfights, and that kind of, you know, those kind of moments of drama. For us. It’s the disappointment of following a lead and discovering it’s gone wrong, or chasing around trying to find somebody and then realising it’s the wrong person. It’s a dead end. So actually, where in the case of Chung foo, who actually was the hardest of all of them to really locate we have some leads, but it’s such a common name, the foo there’s like four or five different foos you could have based on the Chinese character, and the Chang or Jiang as it would be in modern Chinese modern Mandarin Chinese is just one of the most common names here. I mean, hundreds of 1000s of people have that name. So you were just buying Chung foo after Chung foo in the in the archive list the the list of seamen and so on, so it was just painfully difficult. We did find some interesting leads on Chung Fu and that we do have our suspicions that we may have discovered who he is, but you know, at some point, you have to let it drop. So we let we let that one kind of lie as, as the one as the one that got away that in a way helped us to show quite how brutal it was as a process trying have tried to work out who the rest were.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah. And that’s an extraordinary rate of survival. How did you start thinking about that? What might have been the causes for so many of the Chinese surviving?

    Arthur Jones
    Well, that was we, in the end, we, and as you know, having seen it, Sam, we sort of divided the film in two you know, the first half of the film was our question was, how did these men 8 men who were in third class, which had the worst survival rate for men? Especially. How did they have such a high survival rate? And just to be clear about it, they survived six of 8 75%. So they had a 75% survival rate. That is the highest survival rate for any national group on board Titanic, with the exception of I think there’s a couple of nations I think there was one Spanish bloke on board and one Japanese man on board and they both survived. So obviously 100%, but there was only one of them. So any national group that had more than one person in they’re the highest survival rate by quite a long way? So were the others.

    Sam Willis
    I think it was Bulgarians, was it 100% of them died and the other nationality? Well, there were

    Arthur Jones
    really definitely 100% mortality. And then there was a couple of countries only had one person with 100%. But on average, you’d expect eight men, if they, you know, stopped by the average of survival on board, maybe one of them would have survived possibly two somewhere between one and two might have survived. So the incredible rate. So that was our first question away, you know, how did they survive? Especially given that we suspect based on historical precedents, their English wouldn’t have been that good. So it would have been very hard for them to follow instructions on board? They would have been the most obvious of the kind of ethnic minorities the most foreign looking at the foreigners on board, in comparison to the to the sort of Anglo Saxons, who were the centre central portion that the Brits and the Americans

    Sam Willis
    about clothing as well, it’s not just about physical appearance. Absolutely. Yeah. Chinese

    Arthur Jones
    Exactly. Chinese caps. We that the exact clothing they had, we don’t know for sure. But we did find insurance lists of some of the things they claimed. So there would have been probably a mix of Chinese workers clothing, and possibly sort of cheap kind of Western suits, they would have had as well, for certain kinds of scenarios, we also think that some of them at least had still had cues, so you know, sort of their hair tied back. So that would have made them fairly obvious as well as a foreign group. And then a 1912 was a was a, you know, it can’t be we can’t forget was a brutally prejudiced and racist time. And, and when you look back at Titanic through a sort of racial lens or an ethnic lens, it becomes very clear that there are some very strange things going on on board. The way that groups especially white groups, especially northern European American groups, talked about other groups, essentially, what was happening was a kind of lazy racism of ignorance, where you would get if somebody had witnessed someone on board doing something that they thought was dishonourable or, or rushing or shouting or being bad in some way, being a bit of a brute, they would, without any evidence, just call them, the Italians who ran past me, or they would say, the Irish who are down, you know, without any evidence, they would just do that. And it turns out, I did a bit of a scan through the literature and media of the time. And it’s extremely common. I mean, there’s a very famous pamphlet written by one of the female survivors which is well known, because it’s an incredibly generous pamphlet about men and women on board and how people sacrificed themselves and it’s really a famous laudatory piece of text about other survivors and so on, and those who died honourably. Whatit it is less well known for is that at a certain point in it she says, ‘I talk, of course, of the of the, the Anglo Saxon race on board of the others I could never say these things’ I paraphrase, but roughly she’s saying, I’m saying that basically, the white people on board were very honourable, everyone else not so honourable. And that was very, very common to talk in those terms about Titanic. And we were surprised that she, Steven and I, that Titanic had not been looked at in that way through a sort of ethnic lens to see different survival rates or different treatments of people. And in their case, and this is where the story took a twist for us. The particular thing that stood out was the way that the six who survived were treated on arrival in New York once said, once they got there, they had a particularly unique, unique experience that sort of opened up the whole story for us.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah, I mean, it’s not just the the kind of the period of racism, I think. It’s not just the period which causes racism and what what is interesting is there’s an entirely kind of separate strand of racism on shipwrecks or racism associated with shipwrecks, which I only know a little bit about. I wrote a book about shipwrecks many years ago, and I discovered some fascinating stuff. And that’s to do with the British perceptions of how other races has behaved in shipwrecks, and I think the lowest of the low or the Italians, less less than useless French, pretty bad Italians, less than useless. And I think we need to find out a little bit more about that

    Arthur Jones
    That’s really interesting. And I think, you know, you look at this because Titanic is often being used as a snapshot of life. And I think, you know, maritime disasters in general often used as a kind of snapshot of a certain period. But in that case, you know, this Edwardian morals. What’s interesting about Titanic, I think, is that, and this is what kind of baffled me from the beginning is that we’ve, we’ve frozen in time, this moment of Edwardian history. And we treat it as if it’s still, the morals, the values of that time, somehow. We’re meant to still agree with them now. And it’s amazing how often people refer to Titanic and say, oh, yeah, of course, women and children first, as if we ever stick to that now, as if that’s even part of who we say it as if it’s true. But what was the last disaster whether it was even relevant, we don’t really think about it. So what was odd to me, and of course, the more I looked at, you’ll know much more about this than I do. But I think there was one particular wreck a 19th century wreck. That was the beginning of the women and children first sort of idea where some I think Royal Navy or naval chaps had rescued themselves and not brought women off a ship that was floundering, and so on, I think that was the beginning of it. And Titanic really was the last time it was properly mentioned, I believe we had a good rummage around, it seems to have died. So we, we somehow keep it alive as a concept. And what we do that and it’s a strange thing, because the media at the time, really latched on to it. And so very early on the media, a lot of the media, let’s say, including the very serious media, the sort of the broadsheets of their time, viewed it as their job to tell the world who was villainous, and who is heroic on board, instead of saying, here’s this enormous kind of corporate and legislative disaster, like an act of corporate negligence. And who’s to blame? What are the structures that have put these people in this awful situation, and instead to focus for at least the following month? And then of course, by definition, the following 100, next 100 years, including films about it into a catalogue of who’s a villain in a time of absolute panic? And who is and who’s the hero as if the world is divided that way? Or is it given that, you know, the the evidence for these things, it’s very scant, even whether a gun was fired, or whether somebody was shot or who was in what lifeboat, we still think it’s important to work out whether this bloke called, you know, Bruce Ismay was a bit of a git or somebody else was generous. I mean, it’s it to me, that seems a very perverse reading of an enormously an act of corporate negligence, essentially, a human and human error on the part of a captain, if you want to look at it another way.

    Arthur Jones
    Yeah, it’s also fascinating, the whole women and children first thing because it’s, it always comes down to men, being the ones in control, permitting the women and children to leave the boat. And actually, when you look at it, when you if you look at it from the lens that empowers the women’s story, there are a lot of women who refuse to leave the boat. And the whole relationship is completely different to the whole concept of women and children first, which is pressed by by the press, which is controlled by men. And then you’ve got all of these men on board the ship. And what happened was entirely different from it.

    Arthur Jones
    And actually, what I was just one last thing on that what’s interesting is we discovered that there was a whole thread of feminist writing back in 1912. Remember, this is sort of the suffragettes period, and so on. And just pre pre First World War, when these issues were being talked about, and there were women writing articles, fairly few and far between but they existed, saying, why don’t we challenge this concept? Why are we rescuing women? What’s the what that you know, if we’re in a world where we’re pushing for equality, the idea that we’re sort of the goods and chattels of the men and that they need to move us around between lifeboats is just absurd. In fact, there was one quite famous article in which a woman had written a for a woman feminists at the time had written, you know, the Chinese don’t view it that way. She’d actually done it was interesting as a kind of, hey, there are other models in this world, you don’t have to view it that way. There are other whether or not she was right about the Chinese is a bit of a moot point of Chinese culture at the time. But she made this point and it later that article is remembered for saying, that’s the reason why Chinese had survived because they’re sort of brutal, and men centred, and all the rest of them, they didn’t bother rescuing women, whereas in fact, that was never her point at all. Her point was, no, there are other models that we could look at.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah. So coming back to how and why these Chinese survived. Do you have any thoughts on that?

    Arthur Jones
    Well, I think if you had to sum it up to one essential reason, it would come down to the fact that they were what is known as deadheads, they were mariners. They were seamen. And so for all their lack of language skills, we think one or two of them spoke English reasonably well. It looks like what they did is they essentially set off on their own went a different route and ended up on the deck very early, most third class passengers ended up perishing on board because they just didn’t come up to the decks quick enough. It wasn’t, it probably wasn’t so much the way the films portrayed as them being sort of locked down there. But more there was a sort of ordering of society at that point they were held in a certain waiting area a penned-off area that they actually could walk in and out of, but they were told to wait there, they tended to follow the rules, and by the time they got on the decks the lifeboats had gone. So the Chinese came up earlier, we think about an hour earlier, and therefore had more of a chance to get into lifeboats which we should always emphasise, almost all lifeboats left, somewhere between half full, and with a few seats left. In fact, there’s there isn’t really a record of one of the lifeboats leaving full. So there were seats available on all the lifeboats. They weren’t to be clear, taking up the seats of anyone else, because there were seats available on all the lifeboats. But they just managed to get on deck early enough. So we think they weren’t following instructions. There’s a sense in which they may have seen one of the routes up the one we think they took that went up through the second class area, which was marked as an emergency exit, rather than going right down to the other end of the ship and waiting there, they looked like they came up early, there;s that. And then of course, the other element is luck. And he just had to be very lucky to survive Titanic as well. So some, as some sort of combination of those two things appears to have been what saved them. Also, they didn’t jump into the water from a height, which a lot of people did. And if you jump into water from that kind of height, a decent percentage, some somewhere quarter a third will just die on impact with the water because of that, gasp response, you have such cold water, you tend to swallow about two litres. We did some tests on that and found out so a lot of people jumped from height and died very quickly. But they lowered themselves into the water the final two or three that didn’t get into lifeboats and all of those Fun Lung, who became our central character was the one who lowered himself into water and within we think about 20 minutes, managed to at least pull his torso out of the water on a piece of wood, possibly a door. And that’s how he survived. So they really, they really cover the whole breadth of survivor stories spread across three or four different lifeboats and in the water itself, and to survive in the water was a remarkable thing. I mean, there’s let you can sort of the number of people who went into the water and then ended up surviving is you can you can literally list them on the fingers of two hands.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah. It’s interesting then that these guys were sailors because that raise this question of what they were doing on Titanic. And I thought this was fascinating because it gives you a sense of the context in which they lived, where they were going from and where they were going to. And it’s by thinking about it this way, you realise that the Titanic may not have been the worst thing that happened in their lives. And that’s like a profoundly impactful thing. So tell us a little bit about what these guys were up to. Why were they on Titanic?

    Arthur Jones
    Well, they were, they were eight Chinese men. They were stationed in London at the time. But they were fairly mobile, they were sort of part of this transitory. You know, on the road, Chinese community of men 90 95% Men who left China in the late 19th century, early 20th century, in in search of work in search of ways to earn money and send back home in their case to a portion of South southern China in Guangdong province called Tai Shan, which is less well known in the UK than it is in the US because Tai Shan is really the source of most of the China towns in America. It’s the is the small part of Guangdong province that was intensely mobile, and travelled around the world, often beginning as, as working on ships. And then later, you know, settling down somewhere and setting up a shop or laundry or so on. These guys that ended up in London around the same time, we think two or three, three or four of them knew each other, the rest appear to have just randomly been placed. But they were working for a shipping line. They were they were in a sense, signed up on a on a work contract with a shipping line. And what had happened in in March, April 1912 is that there was a coal strike. And so shipping was really being suppressed in the UK. In fact, Titanic was sort of lucky or wealthy enough to still make that voyage. The White Star Line had bought up a load of coal from other lines in order to make the to keep those to keep the lines open. But a lot of other shipping had closed down. And so the shipping line that had hired these eight men wanted to send them over to the US so that they could work on sort of eastern seaboard American shipping. So they wanted to send them over there where that shipping company had other ships that were working up and down the coast. So that’s the story of what happened. They were on Titanic, but for them Titanic probably wasn’t even a word they knew it was just a big ship that was going to take them across. A lot of people over the years have assumed that because they were seamen that they were working on board Titanic but they weren’t they weren’t. They were Properly fully fledged, third class passengers with a ticket. In fact, they had a shared ticket, which was something that third class passengers had at that point, you could buy a sort of block ticket for, for eight of them.

    Sam Willis
    Yeah. And what was going on in Tai Shan is interesting, because it’s not coincidental that this is an area of China, which led to so many people moving away from it. So can you tell us a little bit about what they may have been fleeing from?

    Arthur Jones
    Yes, I mean, fleeing is probably over egging it. They weren’t, there wasn’t a war going on, there was a lack of land. So there was an issue of population growth in the air at the time, we spoke to one or two history professors in the area who gave us great perspective, but one in particular called Professor Leo Leo Jing, from Jama University down there, and he told us this extraordinary story, how there was, it’s a combination of economic factors where you’d get the eldest son in the family, often who would, who would come of age and then sort of head off to make their fortune because there wasn’t enough land to give to children. It was all parcelled up already. And then there was a series of floods. And so there was even more pressure for that for them to sort of go off and make their fortune somewhere else. So it’s a combination of there was poverty there. Certainly poverty, certainly by our standards is timed in these times. But it wasn’t a poorest place in China. There were other bits of China where people weren’t leaving, but there was sort of a spirit. So after a while, you know, there’s sort of a question, why are they doing this? Well, they’re doing it because that’s what they do. You know, that’s what people in the area did, they kind of headed off to make their fortunes elsewhere. So they would head off, usually, they’d end up in Hong Kong, which is quite close to there. They’d get, they’d sign up with one shipping company and kind of work their way back to Europe. And then often, once they got to Europe, at different points in history, it’d be different major trading capitals, but London, certainly for a lot of the early 20th century, they’d end up in London in the Chinatown, then Limehouse and then they would sign up, and then do several years with one particular ship, they usually sign up for three, four years, and then they’d sign up with somebody else. And you can really see them being bounced around by history. So early 20th century, you got these floods in Tai Shan, they’re leaving 1912, you’ve got the coal strike going on in the UK, a lot of British Chinese sailors moved over to the US that was more open, I think 1914, you get an 1915, you get the dual pressure off some protectionist measures in the US where they’re trying to stop quite so many ‘foreigners’ in big scare quotes working on American boats, they’re trying to protect the local, you know, the local, local seamen. And also, you’ve got the First World War breaking out back in Europe, and a huge need for a boost and merchant seaman who can take over from the British seamen who became part of the Royal Navy. So as the Royal Navy filled up with people who had, you know, experience working in the merchant navy, they needed people to fill in those roles. So they got pulled back that way. By the 19, early 1920s, late 19 1920s. There’s this huge anti Chinese sort of late anti Chinese movement, because there’s been a lot of that earlier, but a last, push to kind of clear Chinese out of, of European ports and centres as the union s kicked in and became more powerful. So there’s all sorts of swirling historical reasons why they were really being moved around. It’s interesting because as as we follow their story as individuals, and tried to find them and try to find a signature and address and so on. Sometimes when we lost track of them, we’ve managed to pick them up again, by going back to the wider history and saying, where could they have gone? Where would it have made sense for them to have gone next? Because where would history have pushed them?

    Sam Willis
    And I think the the sort of the final chapter of the story, what happened to the survivors that’s really profoundly moving. I think it’s just talk a little bit about what we know they they experienced after surviving Titanic.

    Arthur Jones
    Well, I mean, the first thing to say is that I have hinted that they had this unique experience on arrival in the US, but you know, to be more particular about it, what happened is that the 700 or so survivors of Titanic arrived on the ship Carpathia, the rescue ship in Manhattan. And they were essentially off disembarked, brought into New York and put up in hotels or hospitals if they needed treatment. It was paid for by the city and the generosity of New Yorkers. The one group of people who never left Carpathia, on the day they arrived were the Chinese who were held in custody on board and they were held in ignominy. They were written about in the press, as if they were somehow had betrayed the rest of the passengers that they done something dishonourable, and also that they were fundamentally flawed because they were Chinese as in we should never have trusted them being on board anyway. And don’t worry, we’re not going to let them stay. I mean, There literally is an article that says to in effect in one of the New York Press, don’t worry, we’ll have them out of the city as soon as we can. So they left within 24 hours, they were put on a on a merchant vessel and sent off. And the record of that shows them going off towards Cuba. This, of course in America is part of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was this, you know, government bill that stopped Chinese settling in America when this huge anti Chinese swell of sentiment came up in the late late 19th century. So that lasted for 60 years or so from the 1880s through to the 1940s. And excluded most Chinese with the exception of the wealthy scholars and a few others, but essentially anybody who was sort of working class from arriving in America, and you have to remember, this is a time when America had not had a law, anything like that it was the country that allowed everyone in, if you came to work, you could come in and work there were no, essentially there were very few immigration laws, and certainly nothing that identified anyone by nationality or ethnicity. But if you were Chinese, you were not allowed to come in. So there there was no exception for them, would be made for them. Having just survived one of the greatest shipwrecks of all time, and the awareness of the tragedy. And just to be clear, they had lost two people, you know, who were friends, we think with Fun Lung, and devastated his life in particular, but possibly some of the rest of them. And that story of them, making huge efforts to achieve something, work really hard to do something and then being scuppered, just continues over the years. And on every level in terms of work in terms of family. They it looks like none of them ever managed to get any of the rest of their family over to join them. There was a problem with the Chinese diaspora at that point in Europe in America, which was as mentioned already, they were 90-95% men, women were generally not allowed to had no excuse had no reason for being allowed into the UK, or the US in particular. And so there was little chance for them to marry. And and compounded by anti miscegenation laws in the US that stopped Chinese and black folk. And you know, from marrying ‘cross racially’, again, with big scare quotes, cross racially in many states in the US, if you were Chinese, you are not allowed to marry a white person or white woman, it would have been in most cases. So we realised earlier on there was a good chance that there may not be any descendants. And we suspected that might be why no one had claimed them because we thought that was one of the oldest things that nobody had come forward and said, Well, that’s my grandfather. And nobody had done that at all. And we set that as a sort of early barrier tragic though it might be if we can’t find any descendants, it might be a book that Stephen would certainly work on, because it will still make a great book. But it might be hard to make that into a film.

    Sam Willis
    The other thing I thought was interesting is is it became very clear that some of the people who had been on Titanic and experienced it didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want their relatives to know about it. And I was wondering whether that was kind of a uniquely Chinese thing. The past is the past. Let’s move on, and let’s deal with the present or whether you think that’s more of a common human ailment?

    Arthur Jones
    I think it is both. I think it’s both I mean, I think it’s it’s the it’s more extreme form, you can see it amongst Chinese families. And when we went to film we had the huge honour incredibly moving day we spent in Manhattan in I think it’s called Pell Street, where the one of the churches I think that the Chinese community uses in, in, in Manhattan in Chinatown there. We went to interview a whole bunch of people who had who would you know, who had Chinese ethnicity, who whose families had come over, most of them were second third generation, there were a couple who had come over themselves in the last sort of 20-30 years. Absolutely extraordinary stories and so profoundly moving. And these cases where you a grandfather has not told his family that their name is not the name they’ve used for the last 60 years. And they’re dismayed by that, in a sense, how could you not tell us who we really are kind of thing. And yet, you know, he did it or the grandmother did it, because they were protecting the family. They didn’t want to have them going around, telling, telling a lie that would have exposed them as potentially perhaps illegal immigrants back in the 1930s. And so there’s the secrets and lies. I always had this theory that what happened on Titanic, if there were descendants, if there were survivors who had had kids, it must have had an effect on their families even if they didn’t know about it, just not knowing about it must have done something to a family I just I get I mean it perhaps it’s because I’ve been a journalist and now I make documentaries. I have the you know, Secrets and Lies are not without consequence they do Things to families, they twist them, even if they’re done for the best of reasons. I mean, often they are the only way to survive, you have to do it, there isn’t another way. They’re sort of the worst, the best worst solution. But they do then split families and make them twisted and broken in very strange ways. And I mean, the most obvious example is the Fong family, where we, we managed to find descendants who were extraordinarily young. In fact, they’re the youngest children of a Titanic survivor. Who were still around, I mean, bear in mind that children of Titanic survivors are disappearing, now they’re in their 80s 90s hundreds. So there are there aren’t that many of them left, there are no survivors left, they haven’t been for the last 15 years or so. So it really is, you know, extraordinary. And we found this family and they had exactly this story, a life growing up, split in a very strange way by the story of Titanic that was never told to them; was hinted out to a few other people, and what that represented for their family and what it did for their family, to have to live with that. That lie. I mean, lie just seems a very strong word for it. You know, but it is a lie. It’s a secret. It’s a lie is telling a different version. I mean, we got Fan Lang’s – And to be clear Fan Lang is the man that survived by floating on a piece of wood in the water, possibly the last survivor picked up from Titanic. On lifeboat 14, they went back the only lifeboat they went back to look for survivors. And when we finally managed to get his, his, what’s it called his alien file, I think, which is the immigration file that the that the State Department keeps in, in the US through through a Freedom of Information Act request that took us about a year to get when we finally got it. It was actually the first time that we confirmed even that he had ever been a sailor. He’d never told anyone, including his ex wife, any of his children, that he’d even been a sailor forget about being on Titanic. So his life was so partitioned, you know, in order to survive, what we discovered, was essentially 30 years of being an undocumented, illegal immigrant to the US.

    Sam Willis
    Well, it’s an extraordinary story. And thank you very much indeed for sharing it with us today. Is there a way that people in the UK can watch this film I know it’s available on Chinese streaming platforms,

    Arthur Jones
    it rolls it’s a curious thing, how these things roll out, but it rolls out over several years, the best way and it has played in in Canada, it’s played in, in in Spain and Hong Kong, and as you say, Mainland China and Japan and Australia, often on the national broadcaster. So we’re hopeful that at some point, it will play in the UK, certainly the US and so on. The best way to keep an eye out for the release date is to go either to the Facebook page if you just search for The SIx documentary on on Facebook, where we have a really thriving community of people who’ve helped us enormously to make the film or to the website itself, the six documentary The six documentary.com, where we put all of our release dates and theatricals and film festivals and so on.

    Sam Willis
    Brilliant stuff. Well, watch this space. Arthur, thank you very much. Indeed. That was fascinating.

    Arthur Jones
    Thanks so much, Sam.

    Sam Willis
    Thank you all so much for listening. Now, don’t forget, please leave us a rating please leave us a review. I promise I will read it out. Please check out a wonderful YouTube page and some fantastic animations and other forms of video which will change the way that you think about the maritime past I promise. Please remember that this podcast comes from both the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the Society for Nautical Research. The Lloyd’s Register Foundation have just launched this year’s amazing new series of maritime innovation in miniature filming the world’s best ship models with the latest camera equipment. It’s as cool as it sounds, I promise you. I’ve been involved in it. I’ve just come back from the Science Museum, where we filmed a ship model made by a French prisoner of war out of animal bone and human hair beat that it’s utterly extraordinary. So please make sure you check all of that out the Society for Nautical Research, you can find that on snr.org.uk. And please join up. It’s a brilliant way not only a finding out all about maritime history from the best in the business, but also open meeting people in generally having a wonderful time.

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