Excerpts From A Roundtable Interview
With Roger Spottiswoode, Director
“The Children of Huang Shi”
, May 12, 2008
Some of these odd subjects that are dear to my heart, like “
” and this film, are very hard to make, and very difficult to find financing
for. It took me eight years to
get this one together. But
it was actually 20 years ago that a British journalist named James MacManus
overheard a conversation in a bar in Beijing, a couple of other English
journalists complaining that they had to go to Shandan, this dreadful little
town, on the edge of the Gobi Desert, because the Chinese government was
unveiling a little statue to an Englishman---the only statue to an Englishman
in China. In the 1930’s,
Shandan was a charming little village, but by the 1980’s, it was a nasty,
crowded, polluted place, as it is now. At
any rate, MacManus, a stringer desperate for a story, went along, and met some
of the actual people involved, the orphans of Huang Shi, some of whom are
still very much alive--- more than forty, actually--- and there he found this
fantastic story, and the statue to George Hogg.
A truly remarkable man.
He appeared, in the film, to arrive in
not really having in mind running an orphanage, at all, but just sort of
stumbled into it. The romance
with the nurse seemed painfully slow to develop, and I was wondering if that
was also true.
I think so. They were
friends for a long time. We made
it a more continuous story, but she traveled around, and they didn’t see
each other very often. We know
she was there, but we really don’t know that much about her.
So some of it was just made up?
Yes, but I have some friends in London, whom I’ve known for a long
time, who are always inviting interesting people over, and in the 60’s I met
a woman there, and she had been in China in the 30’s, and talked about some
of the 40 or 50 or so other British women who had done the same.
So the nurse character is kind of a fleshing out of her story, and
these others, as well. They’d
gone as kind as adventurers, had a little money, a little education, and they
and found themselves in the middle of a Civil War that no one was talking
about. And she said many of them
did what she did. They got stuck
in a remote place and they helped. And
pretty soon they were working as nurses, even though they weren’t nurses.
The one I met actually became an accomplished field surgeon, cutting
off rotting limbs and things like that, but with no paperwork.
She was now retired, on a small pension from the Chinese government,
and only returned to
to visit, because she couldn’t practice medicine in
as she did all her life in
. The twenty or thirty like her
also became Chinese. They spoke
perfect Mandarin and they lived there the rest of their lives.
Mr. Hogg must have had some facility for language as well, to just be
dumped there, and a little while later, he’s conversant.
Yes, he apparently had quite a lot of linguistic ability, because he
really did pick up Japanese by spending about three months there.
But we did take some liberties with the story.
He actually survived the trek for a couple of years, and in that time
he helped set up the trade school that would help the place become more
self-sufficient, for the others who came after him.
The political situation between the Nationalists and the Communists
seemed sort of skimmed over.
Yes, it was very complicated, and for a character study like this, we
had to focus on our story, but it was the Nationalists who helped him with
trucks to get over the mountain pass….but even they had to watch out for the
Communists as well as the Japanese. Few
people knew at the time, or even now, that when the Japanese invaded in the
mid-1930’s, there were 10 to 15 million Chinese slaughtered.
Estimates vary, of course, because nobody really knows for sure, but
the Japanese are still denying that it ever happened.
Particularly the older generation, some of whom had a direct part in
it…In fact, when the Americans occupied the War Office in
after the surrender, they found all these confiscated photographs, and even
movie films, that Japanese soldiers had sent home in their letters, but the
censors removed them. These
plainly show the Japanese slaughtering the Chinese civilians—beheadings,
shootings, burying people alive. They just killed everybody in sight.
It was an American archivist who gave us access to these old films, and
though we put a few clips in there, mostly, we just couldn’t show it.
Too ghastly. But still,
officially denies that it ever happened, which is why the Chinese still hate
them so much. The story was
always a small story, a character story, but it weaves its way through bits of
There doesn’t seem to be any mention of religion in this film, even
when peoples lives were endangered.
There weren’t any religious figures in the story.
Hogg’s parents were Quakers, and active pacifists.
His mother was a rather painless pacifist, but his father was a
conscientious objector. George
wanted to veer away from all that. But
he wound up being very much like his parents.
It wasn’t political with him, but he didn’t pick up a gun, he
didn’t become a war correspondent, and he ended up caring for children.
He died very young, at 30, but knowing he had a fulfilled life.
Thanks so much for your time.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace