Book Review of The Rape Of Nanking, by Iris Chang

Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 12/31/07


  The Rape of Nanking is a well-written account of what happened in Nanking in 1937 when the Japanese invaded and slaughtered 300,000 Chinese. Known for being “The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” this book goes into the detail not only of the Rape itself and what it entailed but also addresses the ways the Japanese tried to deny it ever happened and likewise cover it up. Iris Chang published her book in 1997 and I only came to learn of her suicide in 2004. Many speculate her sudden suicide was due to not only her personal depression but also because of the impact that this grisly subject matter must have had on her.

  For many years The Rape of Nanking was never spoken about—largely because many of the surviving Chinese were humiliated by the whole experience, as well as the efforts put upon by the Japanese government, as well as educational systems, to cover it up. I recommend this book highly, but keep in mind this is not for the ‘weak heart.’ Within the book you will find photos of Chinese people being tortured, decapitated, a woman with a sharp object protruding from her vagina, all the while noticing the smiles upon those Japanese faces committing the crimes. The word ‘Rape’ is used effectively here, for not only were these horrid acts a rape of these people’s basic human rights, but also because women were the ones who suffered the most. The book addresses the many rapes that took place by the Japanese soldiers to that of civilian women—where more often than not the women were not only raped, but were disemboweled, had their vaginas torn apart by knives, their breasts cut off, or were tied up and sometimes forced to endure sex with as many as 40 soldiers a night. In one of the photos it is highly disturbing to see a young woman tied up with her legs spread apart and wallowing in exhaustion. It is possible that the woman in the photo might not even be alive.

  Many of these Japanese solders were so used to killing that the mere act of slaughter became boring to them, and so that is why they made up ‘games’ for how to kill people. I won’t list them all here, but I had to put the book down a moment and gather myself because it was so hard to imagine. The book also gets you wondering which is crueler—to shoot 50 people in the head quickly, or to take half that number and mutilate them for weeks on end? Ironically, one of the heroes of Nanking is John Rabe, who was also a Nazi. Rabe served as the Chairman for the International Committee and helped to organize the Nanking Safety Zone, as well as having kept lengthy diaries to serve as evidence for future years. Chang calls Rabe the “Oskar Schindler of China.” She also speaks about the handful of other Westerners, like Rabe, who stayed behind to help the Chinese people, and how their acts of heroism have gone largely ignored in history, just as the Rape of Nanking itself.

  It was also interesting to learn the ways in which the Japanese tried to cover it up. For years afterwards many of the Chinese resorted to smoking opium and heroin for no other reason than just to escape the misery of their lives. Likewise, crime levels began to rise and so many of the Japanese deniers began claiming that Nanking had been in need for Japanese occupation due to the high crimes—for some government to give them order. She also addresses the ways in which the Japanese history books have been edited and rewritten, where the Rape of Nanking is presented not as a systematic slaughter to kill the Chinese people, but as the mere result of war. I found many similarities between those who deny the Rape of Nanking with those who deny the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, as well as ways in which government works to hide the evidence. Deniers quibble with the numbers murdered (saying it is much less), claiming the murders were not systematic but as a result of war, and also claiming the victims had ‘rebelled’ as a means to justify the invasion and murder. Chang details these denial tactics at great length. She also calls the act of forgetting this atrocity “The Second Rape.” How has this event has gone largely ignored by culture? This fact is what prompted Chang to write this book.

  It is easy to compare these acts done by the Japanese soldiers to those done by the Nazis, but largely the difference resides in the fact that the Nazis filmed much of their crimes and thereby left large amounts of footage behind. The Japanese worked very hard at covering it up, (just as the Turkish government did with the Armenian Genocide) as well as many of the survivors who refused to speak about it—out of fear and shame—many of them women having survived the rapes. Chang notes that because chastity was so valued, the attitude among some of the Chinese was that those women who’d survived the rapes shouldn’t bother trying to live normal lives but should instead just commit suicide.

  This book is a great source of information about the Nanking atrocity, as well providing an analysis of the militarism that went into the minds of the Japanese soldiers, prompting them to have such a callous disrespect towards the life and mind of the individual. After reading this book, one will be able to note the patterns that have become all too familiar in our history: the wanton disregard for human life, those who die, and those who live on—many who never even get an apology. Read this book.


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice website.]


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