November 11, 2004

RIP Iris Chang

Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking, is dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In 1997, Chang published the international bestseller ``The Rape of Nanking,'' which described the rape, torture and killing of hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers in the former Chinese capital during the late 1930s. ``The Chinese in America,'' published last year, is a history of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in the United States.

The late historian Stephen Ambrose described Chang as ``maybe the best young historian we've got, because she understands that to communicate history, you've got to tell the story in an interesting way.''

Chang suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized during a recent trip researching her fourth book about U.S. soldiers who fought the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II, according to her former editor and agent Susan Rabiner.

Chang continued to suffer from depression after she was released from the hospital. In a note to her family, she asked to be remembered as the person she was before she became ill -- ``engaged with life, committed to her causes, her writing and her family,'' Rabiner said.

I've always considered myself pretty cynical about man's capacity for inhumanity to his fellow man; I read the B'nai B'rith "Black Book" of Nazi atrocities against the Jews when I was in eighth grade, and haven't spared myself the inside story of any of the century's genocides since then.

But Rape of Nanking was worse - as immediate as a stroll through the Holocaust Museum, but worse in its way; you don't expect a book to punch the horrors of its subject through the printed page as immediately and vididly as Chang does in Rape of Nanking.

I read the book years ago - and it disturbed me deeply (all the more so to realize that Japan has still not reckoned with its involvement in the Rape). I remember wondering how Iris Chang could live with the images that, for her as the writer, must have been even more immediate and vivid than the ones she brought to the reader.

Apparently she could not. Please keep your thoughts and prayers with her husband, daughter and family.

Posted by Mitch at November 11, 2004 04:55 PM | TrackBack

A forum has been set up for discussion about Iris Chang at

Posted by: john at November 19, 2004 08:25 PM