The Rape of Nanking by Iris Change
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: November 1997
Categories: Asia-China/Japan, Military-WWII
In December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered—a death toll exceeding that of the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written what will surely be the definitive history of this horrifying episode.
The Rape of Nanking tells the story from three perspectives: of the Japanese soldiers who performed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city and were able to create a safety zone that saved almost 300,000 Chinese. Among these was the Nazi John Rabe, an unlikely hero whom Chang calls the “Oskar Schindler of China” and who worked tirelessly to protect the innocent and publicize the horror.
More than just narrating the details of an orgy of violence, The Rape of Nanking analyzes the militaristic culture that fostered in the Japanese soldiers a total disregard for human life. Finally, it tells the appalling story: about how the advent of the Cold War led to a concerted effort on the part of the West and even the Chinese to stifle open discussion of this atrocity. Indeed, Chang characterizes this conspiracy of silence, that persists to this day, as “a second rape.”
I’m finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. I’ll simply say this: Both of these books are deeply disturbing but historically important. I believe that we have to read books like this…both to honor the victims and to remind ourselves of what can happen when absolute power is bestowed on the few.