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Iris Chang

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Iris Chang

I was shocked by the news that Iris Chang, author of the bestselling books, The Rape of Nanking, and The Chinese in America, was found dead from gunshot wounds in her car along a California highway on 10 November 2004. She was only 36 years old, and leaves a husband and a 2-year-old son.

Born in New Jersey, she studied science writing at John Hopkins University, and was a journalist before becoming a full-time writer.

I was put in contact with her in 1998 when I was researching the Rape of Nanking for a musical that I had been trying to write. She was extremely helpful and agreed to be the historical consultant for our project.

The Rape of Nanking is about one of the most tragic events of World War II, and often referred to as the Chinese holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were slaughtered, raped and tortured by Japanese soldiers over the course of a few weeks in Nanking during December 1937 and early 1938. The savagery and ferocity of the butchery has left a permanent scar in Chinese minds.

Websites about the Rape of Nanking:

An undeniable history in photographs
BBC Report
Memorial Hall of the Victims
History Place
Review of Iris Chang’s Rape of Nanking

Unfortunately the Japanese government has to this day consistently denied responsibility for this massacre.

It is with great sadness that I mourn the passage of such a young and talented writer.

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About ken

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    The Japanese military was arguably more monstrous than the Nazi military during WWII.

    Of course, one must not forget the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews and other “sub-humans” by the Nazi military machine. But this was done primarily by “special” “elite” units of the German military, not by your average German soldier.

    The Japanese military, OTOH, did unspeakable things across the board. The Bataan Death March, the “rape of Nanking,” the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the suicide attacks, the butchery in Hong Kong and Korea, etc.

    Thankfully, Japan is now a highly-civilized nation. (As is Germany.)

  • Padhraic

    Pearl Harbor seems out of place on your list there. A surprise attack on the US’s pacific fleet, that my dear boy is a preemptive strike. A cowardly act? maybe, but it’s understandable. The slaughter of civilians by ordinary soldiers is harder to stomach. War is not pretty.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Re: Pearl Harbor: Good point.

    Still…the bastards were supposedly still in “peace negotiations” with the US at the time of the attack. And it occured on an early Sunday morning, when they knew most of our people would be sleeping in, or getting ready for church.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    A friend emailed me this news this morning. It really saddens me. Iris makes two very good minority writers lost to suicide during the last few weeks. I’ve encountered her at writers conferences and found her intelligent, resourceful and fun. She will be missed.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Yeah, it was rather cold of me not to mention it…

    RIP, Iris Chang. I have no idea who you are, but from what I gather you were a fine, decent, and intelligent person…

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Wait a minute…

    “Iris makes two very good minority writers lost to suicide during the last few weeks.”

    She committed suicide? While driving?

    Someone, please elaborate…

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Perhaps she parked, then shot?

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    The email I got, from a friend of hers, said suicide. I have no idea what the death will be ruled legally. My apologies for not being more clear.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Bhw’s scenario seems to be correct. My friend also alluded to some murmurings in the way of revenge against Iris for embarassing the Japanese government. But, I’m not one for conspiracy theories. I doubt she was murdered.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Hmm…

    From MD’s link:

    “Iris Chang, a best-selling author who chronicled the Japanese occupation of China and the history of Chinese immigrants in the US, was found dead in her car of a self-inflicted gunshot, authorities said. She was 36.

    “Chang, who won critical acclaim for her books The Rape of Nanking and The Chinese in America, was found along Highway 17 just south of Los Gatos, Santa Clara County authorities said on Wednesday. On Tuesday morning, a motorist noticed her car parked on a side road, checked the vehicle and called police.

    “The official cause of death has not been released, but investigators concluded that Chang, who was hospitalized recently for a breakdown, shot herself in the head. She lived in San Jose with her husband and two-year-old son.”

    {…}

    “Chang reportedly suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized during a recent trip researching a book about US soldiers who fought the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II.”

    Jesus…

  • SFC Ski

    Suicide is always both a sad and infuriating event.

    Is her book on the Chinese in America any good? I enjoy reading about immigrants in America, and Ellis Island is one of my favorite places, I’d read this book if it is worthwhile.

    Regarding US forces in the PAcific, you might want to read “Ghost Soldiers”.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    I’m sure Iris had some really awful images in her mind from the material she had studied. There is a kind of secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that can occur from exposure to depravity. I don’t know anything about her mental health history, but living with all that evidence of human pathology may have taken a toll.

    Years ago, I did a lot of research on the Catholic Church and pedophilia, including interviewing victims. Much of what I heard and read was disgusting. It was difficult to get the images of the behavior out of my mind. Something similar happened when I covered a serial killer case as a reporter. Iris was exposed to material much, much worse. She also met and interviewed surviving victims. And, she did it as an independent writer — without other people who were sharing the experience.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    My understanding is that Iris, whom I found to be a lovely person and a most humane writer, carried much sadness over the material she researched. Apparently as she grew up, her parents told her stories of the rape of Nanking and those sorts of atrocities (humans’ inhumanity to others) fascinated her almost endlessly — ultimately leading to her writing career and perhaps to her detriment. What you describe, MD, makes sense — from personal experience I know that researching and reporting on horrific things takes quite a toll.

    The news of what is being reported generally as her suicide is such a kick in the gut. Blessings and condolences to her spouse and young son. Iris, the woman and the writer, will be missed and mourned for a long time. This world just isn’t built for sensitive, caring souls…

  • Ian

    While living in Nanjing, I encountered a very gracious, and hospitable people; somewhat surprising to me in such a large (by Western standards) city. Prior to moving there, I learned a little of the Japanese occupation. Considering this sad history, the trust and generosity I experienced as an outsider was always a little surprising. Although resentment and contempt toward the Japanese remains, strong economic and social ties continue. Japanese visitors are welcomed and often given special considerations. Although motivated by a dependence on the Japanese markets, this is really a testimony of the emotional resilience of this ancient community on the Yangtze.

    The grandmother of the woman I fell in love with in Nanjing lost everything during the Japanese occupation and subsequent civil war. “Granny” was daughter of the one of Nanjing’s wealthiest land / business owners. Upon my return to the U.S., I encountered Iris Chang’s book. It helped me begin to comprehend the scope of what this family had experienced and overcome, in some ways deepening my feelings and resolve during a very long separation from my fiancee. It also helped me understand a little of the mentality of the Japanese soldier. I am very saddened to learn of Ms. Chang’s passing. I never thanked her for her meaningful work. My deepest regrets to her husband and son.

  • Ed

    I just saw a spot with Iris Chang on CSPAN not too long ago. It was a brief interview at a book fair or some book event. She appeared excited and full of energy when she spoke of her new book and associated research (I think it was related to American and Japanese soldiers). I understand depression and angst can be well hidden, but I cannot imagine why she would take her own life. Add in the fact that she had a two year old child and that perplexes me further.
    As such, I don’t believe that it is out of the realm of possibility Iris was murdered. She upset a lot of people in revealing the truth. Either someone seeking retribution from what was said in a previous book, or someone fearing exposure from this new research could have significant reason to kill her.
    To say this is a “conspiracy theory” dismisses the possible truth from being discovered and given the circumstances; it could very well be plausible.

  • http://www.marjorieasturias.com Marjorie Asturias-Lochlaer

    I just found out last night about Iris Chang’s suicide. As someone mentioned previously, it really was like a kick in the gut. My master’s thesis research centered on Japanese atrocities during WW2, specifically the sex-slave issue in Southeast Asia, and I can understand how years of researching the subject can take its toll on your mental health. I had to step away completely from the topic myself and never did finish my thesis. Devoting two years of my graduate school life to it took so much mental and emotional energy, more than I could eventually handle.

    Rest in peace, Ms. Chang, and blessings and condolences to your family, especially to your husband and son.

  • george

    Iris Chang has done a great job for her writings. The tragic history of China in the recent past shows the need for China to achieve prosperity and modernization. Today, China is on the rise, though there is still a huge room for improvement. My friend’s book, China’s Global Reach (Haworth Press) talks about it. It is a must read, for the book is the very best discussion on how China is becoming better and more open than ever before.

  • abdeul rahim

    What a horrible tragedy. How could someone so talented kill herself?

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