Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Rape of Nanking

70 years ago, on December 13, 1937, the Chinese port city of Nanking fell to the invading Imperial Japanese army. In the seven weeks that followed hundreds of thousands of people were raped, tortured and murdered in a war crime that was immediately known as the "rape of Nanking". Yet this horrific event had faded into historical obscurity, at least in the West, following the end of World War II. The publication of The Rape of Nanking by American journalist Iris Chang in 1997 changed history by bringing what Chang called "the forgotten holocaust of World War II" to worldwide attention.

Chang's book was the first full study of the Nanking massacre in English, and it was Chang who discovered important archival information such as the dairy of John Rabe, a German businessman and Nazi, who witnessed the massacre and led an international effort in the city to shield residents from the slaughter. The book became a cause célèbre, and a bestseller. But in Japan the book was not welcome, and I believe it has never been translated into Japanese. On the Chinese side the massacre continues to be a focal point for memorials, and a sore point with the Japanese government, who continue to reject calls for more atonement for Japan's war crimes. And there remain Japanese commentators who deny that the massacre happened at all.

Despite the success of the book and the changes it brought about, the author, Iris Chang, fell into a deep depression following the book's success and in 2004 committed suicide. A new film , Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking, airing on the History Channel tonight (8pm MST), attempts to conflate Chang's story and the massacre, with only moderate success according to the Globe critic Kate Taylor ($). Taylor suggests that a "forgotten holocaust" requires a traditional documentary film. The film stars Edmontonian Olivia Cheng in the lead role of Iris Chang.

And a writer friend of Iris Chang's, Paula Kamen, who wrote an interesting memoir (All In My Head) about her battle with a chronic migraine headache, has just published a book about Chang called,
Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind. As with Ann Patchett's memoir about her R.I.P friend Lucy Grealy (Truth and Beauty) the reviews have been iffy thus far. There is something slightly off-putting about writing about a dead friend, despite the noble intention to honour the person.

Finally, English thriller writer Mo Hayder was inspired by her reading of The Rape of Nanking to make use of it in her most recent thriller, The Devil of Nanking. Hayder also makes use of personal experience as a bar hostess in Japan to tell a suspenseful, haunting story about a young Englishwoman obsessed with the Nanking atrocities. She travels to Tokyo in search of a Chinese survivor who may have film evidence of the massacre. But there are many in Tokyo’s dark underworld who stand in her way of finding the truth.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home