When RMS Titanic sank on a cold night in 1912, barely 700 people escaped with their lives. Among them were six Chinese men. Arriving in New York with the other survivors, the six were met not with compassion, but suspicion and slander. Less than 24 hours later, they were expelled from the country, soon forgotten, and lost beneath the waves of time.
What became of them? The answer is the story of so many like them, who travel thousands of miles from their homes in search of better lives, only to be met by hostility, hysteria, and walls at the border. The Six is an extraordinary story of survival and dignity in the face of racism and anti-immigrant policy that still reverberates today.
In an epic journey that crosses continents, The Six follows an international team of investigators as they set out to uncover the truth about the six Chinese, and to right a century-old injustice. For the first time, we discover who these men really were, tracing their origins and tracking down descendants denied access to their history. We shine light on the dark legacy of immigration policy, and on the sacrifices of migrants.
DIRECTOR – ARTHUR JONES
Arthur Jones is a British filmmaker based in China. His previous work includes The Poseidon Project and A Farewell Song, a documentary about a group of retired Chinese musicians who reunite to perform a series of concerts outside of the state-supported music system. The film was backed by Channel 4’s BritDoc foundation and won the Special Jury Prize for Documentaries at the Syracuse International Film Festival. He has also made commissioned films for the Special Olympics, the World Expo and Shanghai Disneyland. Arthur also regularly directs for NatGeo, BBC and Discovery Channel.
PRODUCER – LUO TONG
Luo Tong has been producing documentary content since 2002. She has been the driving force behind a number of successful independent films, including A Farewell Song and The Poseidon Project. She has worked extensively with international media organizations, including APTN, BBC, ITV, NPR, APM, Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel as the China co-producer.
Almost six years ago, my friend Steven Schwankert came to me and suggested that we make a documentary about the Chinese survivors of Titanic. “There were Chinese people on Titanic?!” was my immediate reaction. It’s a sentence I’ve heard a lot in the years since, pretty much every time we have told people about the film we are working on. And it is the fact that no one seemed to know about the Chinese on board the most famous shipwreck of all time that spurred us on to finish what at times seemed like an impossible task.
There were more than 700 survivors of Titanic, and almost all of them are well known, at least in their country of origin. When I was a child, we lived opposite the house of an elderly woman who had survived Titanic. Everyone knew about her. If you check online now, you can find her year of birth, her children, the story of her life, her story on Titanic. And the same is true of all the other survivors. Except our six men.
So, why were the Chinese so uniquely forgotten by history? Why had no one come forward to claim them as grandparents, uncles, or even friends?
The more we looked, the more we suspected it had something to do with the rumours published in British and American media in 1912 that implied the six men had acted dishonourably to save themselves. But were those terrible accusations – that they had dressed as women to get places on lifeboats, that they had hidden, or were stowaways – have something to do with the discrimination that an entire generation of Chinese faced as they went out into the world to work, and settle? The story just seemed to get bigger and bigger, and the task of sorting out fact from fiction at times seemed insurmountable.
Fortunately, Steven and I were joined along the way by an incredible team of collaborators, including our Chinese and international researchers, spread out over China, the US, the UK and Canada, our amazing production team at LP Films, and – just when we really needed his help – James Cameron.
Being involved in The Six has been the privilege of a lifetime. And I will never be able to thank enough the people we met along the way – above all the descendants and relatives of the survivors who helped us to tell this story for the first time. I hope that this film is a fitting tribute to a whole generation of Chinese whose suffering lasted a lifetime and who faced discrimination that we have only really begun to reckon with as a society in the last year or so.