Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking
by Ying-Ying Chang
While reading The Rape of Nanking, I heard that the author died mysteriously while working on her fourth book. Some say suicide but there was also talk that she may have been silenced by angry right-wing groups in Japan. I was eager to know what happened to this scholar and writer who was so driven to get it right and publish her stories!
This memoir written by Iris’ mother must have been hard to write. I enjoyed reading how Iris grew up loving a challenge, re-issuing a school literary magazine that had stop publishing for some years, getting herself the position of college news reporter to the Chicago Tribune and tackling all kinds of challenges!
I was amazed and impressed to read about her life. It was a little strange that the author never discussed any of Iris’ faults or weaknesses…at least not until her mental crisis towards the end of her life. This seems have been right out of “A Beautiful Mind.” as Iris began to imagine all sorts of enemies or people following her.
In spite of the tragic ending, this is an amazing story of an amazing woman who died at only 36 yet accomplished more than most people who live to old age!
The second book I read was written by her friend Paula Kamen. She was more critical of Iris Chang, saying that at itmes she was too intense and it was wearing on her friends sometimes. Paula was the one who first used Iris’ name as a verb as in, “You should just Iris Chang it!” ( go for it! and reach high audaciously)
One thing I liked reading was that in researching the book, all of Iris’ letters and papers that Paula read were positive in referring to people. Paula found comments about herself that were flattering and wrote that Iris was “talking positively about me behind my back…Iris never said anything negative about any of her friends to me.” You never know who might read what you write about them, I thought. Good thing to bear in mind.
If Iris did in fact take her own life, I believe it definitely had something to do with the subject matter she wrote about. She was sensitive, not cold and matter-of-fact as some journalists. Hearing all the stories of atrocities and seeing the photos of the massacre at Nanking, having people appeal to her to help them gain redress certainly affected Iris’ mental state. When she died, she was working on a book about the Bataan war prisoners, interviewing survivors.
Of the two books, I enjoyed reading her Ying-Ying Chang’s book more as she told the whole story of Iris Chang’s life. The ending is tragic but it is a tribute to a brilliant and caring young woman.