Monday, March 29, 2010

Iris Chang, An Appreciation

A brief note in appreciation of Iris Chang, who was born yesterday in 1968. Ms Chang is the author of The Rape of Nanking (1997), which documented the atrocities visited on the Chinese by the invading and occupying Japanese Imperial Army beginning in 1937.

In a very short space of time, in one locale, hundreds of thousands of civilians were rounded up and killed in indescribably horrific ways, and up to 80,000 women raped.

Ms Chang was motivated to investigate after hearing personal stories from her grandparents and after attending a seminar in 1994. Unbelievably, no one had bothered to write a book in English on what had happened. Two years of total immersion in the project followed. According to Ms Chang, she was ...

... in a panic that this terrifying disrespect for death and dying… would be reduced to a footnote of history, treated like a harmless glitch in a computer program that might or might not again cause a problem, unless someone forced the world to remember it.

The book was hailed as a journalistic and scholarly tour de force, with many honors accruing to its author, including National Woman of the Year from the Organization of Chinese Americans. Predictably, she was bitterly attacked by ultranationalist Japanese groups in denial, and by attention-seeking nitpicking scholars too lazy to research and write their own account.

To date, Japan has refused to apologize for the holocaust.

I confess to never reading the book, nor, with my tendency to spin into runaway depression, am I likely to. Last year, however, I did view a documentary based on her account. It’s a story that needs to be told and retold, that we need to hear and re-hear.

Ms Chang followed up with 2003 book on The Chinese in America. In Aug 2004, while on the road promoting her book and working on her next book about the Bataan Death March, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for three days with “reactive psychosis.” Over the months, she was beset by depression and was taking mood stabilizers.

In November, by the side of a road in rural California, Ms Chang aimed a revolver at her head and pulled the trigger. She left three suicide notes. She was 36.

Thanks to my friend David Kincheloe for the heads-up. You can read the post on his blog here.


David K said...

A wonderful scholar, a highly empathic woman, a good writer, a great loss.

Thanks, John!


Gledwood said...

oh my God :-<