Iris Chang was an intensely productive, in her words, “almost obsessive” individual, and these qualities shine through in her private papers.
After publishing the book The Rape of Nanking, in preparation for her book tour, Chang captured her thoughts on a slew of a 3×5 inch index cards, cards which she then organized meticulously under headers like “Personal experiences writing the book.” She asked herself questions like “Why did you write the book?” and “What emotional impact did writing this book have on you?” (Iris Chang Papers, Boxes 194 and 195). And of course there is what we would expect to hear: writing the book was a personally taxing undertaking, she cried while she was writing it, her parents cried about it, too.
But there are much more interesting little tidbits buried in these little cards. Under the heading “Why [did the Nanking Massacre] vanished from World History?” a card can be found that reads partially like this:
Why is this event coming back [now]?
And, in Box 195, under the header “My own experiences,” we have this:
Book [was] so upsetting to Nien Cheng, who survived her own hell by Cultural Revolution, that she had to put it down
Under the category “How You Can Change [the] Situation”, predicting a call to action in her media tour, we get a card entitled “What can I as a US citizen do to change the status quo?” to which Chang answers:
1. Support the Lipinski bill
2. Buy [my] book, donate a copy to the local library
3. Talk to [your] children’s history teacher & ask why this [e.g., Rape of Nanking] isn’t being taught
4. Refuse to buy Japan product & write to corporations & tell them
Other categories include “Shocking statistics” and “Shocking quotes,” and “My feelings about Japan.” In the last-listed category, she states: “This book is not anti-Japan and its’ not Japan bashing…..” which then swoops into something culminating vertically in the phrase “until no state denial!” It was a rather violently structured card amid the bunch.
I found one other card to be particularly stimulating: another one with lots of data packed in, obviously something she was feeling passionate about in 1999: “My questions for the COX committee.”
Now we are onto something!
The idea being: the book emerged in a period of rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, represented by the paranoid Cox Report. The Cox Report and the detention of Wen Ho Lee emphasized in some ways the need for a more vigorous Chinese nationalism and reinforced the tropes of unjust victimization of Chinese globally that was emerging in the U.S. at that time. As Joshua Fogel has written rather convincingly, part of the wildfire spread of Iris Chang’s book is connected with the globalization of Chinese identities and the identity politics among the Chinese diaspora.
And if that weren’t enough, here is a letter to Iris Chang (with original spelling maintained) from a little old lady in San Francisco, dated Sept. 14 1998:
Dear Ms. Chang Re: RAPE/Nanking
Congradulations for your dedication, perseverence, courage to write so vivied the truth of the ASIAN Holocoust by the savage Japs.
When you mentioned the Lipinski Bill, I, who is vision impaired, had someone take me to see my Congressman Tom Lantos to urge him to help this Bill. Mr. Lantos has an assistant, Jonathan Chu, whose family members were victims of Jap atrocities.
I was so anxious to see this Bill finally in Congress (House), that I made almost 400 copies of the most sickening but truthful photos in your book, together with my letter, and sent them to almost all of the members of the House.
Whenever, newscasters sympathizers tell of the poor victim japs relocated during Worl War II, I also sent them your phoots protesting against their UNtruthful news reporting. Of NOT telling the whole truth-the Asian Holocoust cased by the savage japs.