Sunday, November 28, 2004

Iris Chang’s passing

Iris Chang 1968 – 2004
It came quite as a shock to me yesterday when I was surfing the blogs and chanced upon Akuma’s to read about the passing of an author whom I’ve avidly followed. It’s sudden as the news of her suicide eluded my reading in the local dailies on November 11th. I’m referring to Iris Chang, author of the books; The Chinese in America : A narrative history, The Rape of Nanking and Thread of the Silkworm. I’ve read two of her books and found them to be a fascinating research into China. As of now, her official web site is shutdown and is displaying a black background with her obituary.

The Rape of Nanking chronicles the Japanese military campaign to take Nanking from the Nationalists led by Chang Kai Sheik during WWII. After a long fought battle, the city was overtaken and the frustrated Japanese military, aiming to get revenge and to punish the citizens for their resistance carried out a spree of killing, looting and raping on its unarmed citizens. The Japanese government has never admitted to the event ever occurring and Iris’s book set out to portray living accounts of the events that followed the fall of the city. Her book was well received and made known the atrocities that occurred to the effect that several off-spin accounts have been published since such as “The good German of Nanking” which tells about the accounts of a German officer, John Rabe that seek to help the citizens of Nanking during this brutal period as in the footsteps of ‘Schindler’s List”. It’s not a pretty picture and the atrocities captured and narrated could send shivers down anyone’s spine. Yet if it happened and was never owned up and forgotten to time, it’s a sad fate to the countless Chinese in Nanking, the writing of this book brings about their plight and suffering and the hope that the perpetrators will one day be punished.

She also wrote about the Chinese diasporas in the Americas in ‘The Chinese in America”, how they were treated and how they overcame every hardship heaped upon them in the foreign land called ‘gum san’ or gold mountain as America was viewed by the Chinese. She charts the Chinese progress throughout the ages from the early railroad days where coolies helped built the Transcontinental railroad to the upcoming of Chinese surge in obtaining places in prestigious institutions of learning and the modern day success story of various Chinese American descendents. Her narrative about the effects of these immigrants who left behind families to find work in a foreign land and how this affected those living in China and the new comers who soon abandoned their ancestral home to call America their own is easy to read and is concise. How were they treated, how did they fare, how they have adapted and how they are at present. A whole cultural and historical experience of the Chinese that now has spread to the globe.

Her passing has been attributed to suicide with a gunshot to her head in her vehicle out in a lonely countryside. Before this, it was mentioned that she was suffering from depression but foul play has yet to be ruled out. For what it is worth, the literary world has lost a talented author and her passing will be noted. Her contributions in making known to the world about Nanking is her greatest legacy and will continue to fuel debate on the Japanese’s role in Asia during WWII.

Iris Chang's home page
San Francisco chronicles
BBC News

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