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Writing the Early Postwar: White and Jacoby’s _Thunder Out of China_

Foreign correspondents are crucial conduits for insights into contemporary East Asia. As I’ve learned from my conversations with various bureau chiefs, stringers, and greybeards in the region, there are few people willing to share insights as journalists, as it is their job to be, and to stay, plugged in.

For the contemporary historian, reading the accounts of journalists in the region in the 1940s an 1950s is particularly salutary. They are layered and numerous — some journalists wrote books, works indicating a kind of concentration of what is usually years in the region, activity which itself emerged out of hundreds of dispatches which can often also be tracked down. The reporters may have left personal papers behind, or have done oral histories/interviews for documentary films in their later years. The papers of even journalists whose work is more general, like John Gunther, the supremely productive globetrotter whose papers are at the University of Chicago, can be very useful.

What follows are my own notes on and quotes from an important summary of China at a crucial turning point — the years 1945 and 1946, when the Republic of China was again on the brink of civil war, and yet trying to process the massive contusions that the just-ended War of Resistance had wrought.

White and Jacoby were both keen observers and sharp writers — the prose has a certain assertive momentum to it, and their summary of China’s nominal victory in the Second World War is excellent. At times common propaganda memes work their way into the writing, and China is ignored completely; at one such point the Japanese loss was ascribed to the fact that “they were led by military technicians who had only a jungle understanding of politics.” (p. xiv.) In describing the milieu onboard the USS Missouri at the most emblematic surrender of the Japanese to the Allies:

Shigemitsu was dressed…as if he were attending a wedding or a funeral. He had a wooden leg, and he limped along the deck; when he began to clamber to the veranda deck where the peace was to be signed, he clutched the ropes and struggled up with infinte pain and discomfort. With savage satisfaction everyone watched Shigemitsu struggling up the steps; no American offered a hand to help the crippled old man. (p. xii)

The events at Nanking a week later, and celebrated heavily today by the CCP, are left completely aside.

 The wells of hatred and terror that the Japanese had opened by their ferocity were ready to be tapped, and the Communists tapped them. (p. 50)

As ever, returning to writing that is 70 years old helps to remind us that the CCP’s attachment to anti-Japanese propaganda is hardly a new construct, and has some deep reservoirs of continuity.

However, White and Jacoby are justly more focused on the Kuomintang in this text, which is the foremost opponent of Japan in wartime. The government gets very little credit however for properly commemorating the war, or for defending Chinese territory or populations during the prior eight years (the Manchurian Incident of 1931 and the construction and destruction of Manchukuo is beyond the ambit of this very ambitious work):

Not even today is there any accurate estimate of the carnage at Shanghai [in 1937]; Chinese casualties mounted to the hundreds of thousands as the blood and courage of the soldiers absorbed the shock of Japan’s charges. (p. 52)

Held up equally for their flaws are the Japanese strategists who stumbled into a quagmire in China. White and Jacoby weave through some first-hand field observations of the static front lines with their excellent assessment of how Japanese intelligence on China had ‘blinded’ the Japanese general staff. Again the analysis gets mired in wartime propaganda memes about how Chinese peasants and endless tracts of soil would overcome — themes which were so pervasive in the war that even German reporters writing books about the Sino-Japanese conflict were duty-bound to cover them prominently.

What more recent analysis would tell us about Japanese foibles is how the general staff was shot through with somewhat personalized wishful assessments of the attractive  power of Japanese pan-Asianism in China. One is reminded of General Matsui Iwane’s pronounced views of Chinese warlords and dismissal of Chinese nationalism — that is to say, Matsui and some of his colleagues with experience in early-20th-century China saw the country less as a unifying nation-state under Chiang Kai-shek then as a collection of brutal local warlords who local residents would be glad to see displaced by a benevolent foreign power. In any event, this meant an erroneous assessment of the ease of Japan’s task on the mainland. (p. 54)

If the Japanese leadership (the homefront is not really broached here) was feeding itself illusions about the ease of the task at hand, White and Jacoby also pour scorn on the divorcing of Chinese propaganda from wartime reality. (p. 61-62).

The authors witnessed Japanese air raids  on the wartime capital of Chongqing (Chungking), which are dealt with descriptively in the first chapter of the book.


Points about rural destruction by Japanese troops are also informed by first-hand observation, and are worth quoting in full given recent controversies over “comfort women” narratives:

The Japanese had just left, but they had blazed a black, scarred trail of devastation across the countryside. You might ride for a day through a series of of burned villages that were simply huddles of ruins…The peasants had fled before the Japanese advance. When they did not flee voluntarily, they were forced to leave by government edit, and they took with them everything from seed grain to furniture…The Japanese entered a barren wasteland. They had been held up by floods, and when they reached their key objectives they had two weeks’ growth of beard; caked with mud, they were exhausted and furious.

In some of the districts through which I passed, every woman caught by the Japanese had been raped without exception. The tales of rape were so sickeningly alike that they were monotonous unless they were relieved by some particular device of fiendishness. Japanese soldiers had been seen copulating with sows in some districts. In places where the villagers had not had time to hide themselves effectively, the Japanese rode cavalry through the high grain to trample the women into showing themselves. The Japanese officers brought their own concubines with them from the large garrison cities — women of Chinese, Russian, Korean, or Japanese nationality — but the men had to be serviced by the countryside. (p. 65-66)

Japanese revisionists prone to minimizing the above account will be glad to note that the authors do include a tale of communist women being raped by Kuomintang government soldiers after the the New Fourth Army incident in 1940 (p. 76), but the latter story lacks the systematic — and foreign — character of the first.

Drawing again on fieldwork on the front lines in North China, the authors provide a good sense of the stasis along the front (p. 67), the lack of mobility in the war, the front as “anticlimax”. With this kind of depressing ethos, the feeling of a phony war, some readers will be prone to liken it to the war novels of Jean Paul Sartre, Le Chemins de la Libertebeing written in that same pregnant year of 1946, but not to be translated into Chinese until the early 1980s.

Chen Lifu in 1947, TIME magazine cover, art by Boris Artzybasheff

The authors embark on an epic description of one leader of the so-called CC Clique and influential figure in Kuomintang youth organization, Chen Li-fu:

[Chen Li-fu was] easily the most impressive man of the triumvirate of deputies. He had an exquisitely handsome face, with burning eyes and glossy silver hair, and seemed as as a piece of old ivory. He was a ruthless, hated zealot– high-principled, relentless, and incorruptible; he wad a mystical nationalist…Chen was a great Kuomintang theorist, and his writings were an inchoate mass of half-rational, half-mystical pronouncements; no American could possibly understand them…His sleep was untroubled by the screams of those who suffered in Kuomintang concentration camps or by the terrors his policy imposed on liberals…During the middle years of the war Chen Li-fu rode high. His censors made the press, stage, and literary world writhed under his directives. (pp. 107-110)

Chapter 8, “Chiang Kai-shek — The People’s Choice?” is an evocative one whose questioning title tells the reader what he or she really needs to know.

Finally, White and Jacoby do succeed in breaking down the Sino-Japanese binary decades before historians of East Asia finally stole a page out of the French historian’s repertoire (which itself only had really got off the ground in the 1970s) and developed an interest in Chinese collaborators.

Japanese agents were everywhere. One war area commander admitted that he paid a friendly visit to the Japanese commander he opposed, because the commander had been his schoolmate in Japan. Individuals went back and forth between Chungking and puppet officials of the Japanese government in Nanking. (p. 141)

A very demoralizing unpublished account is included by a  Chinese journalist about Chinese peasant apathy toward Japanese occupiers in 1943-44. (pp. 143-44) Such writing is a clear reminder that for every patriotic journalist like Wang Yunsheng, braving Japanese air raids in Chongqing, there were other writers working for the Japanese in the interior or Manchuria, and others observing the deep failings of the Chinese national project on the margins during the War of Resistance.



Xi Jinping’s Tripod: Updating the National Humiliation Narrative in Nanjing

This essay was originally published at the China Policy Institute Blog at the University of Nottingham on 15 December 2014, under the title ‘Xi Jinping’s Nanking Massacre Commemoration and China’s Anti-Japanese Calendar,’ and is republished here with permission. 

2014 has been a banner year for the Chinese Communist Party’s politics of historical commemoration of the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945). As the Party has faced a host of internal challenges to its legitimacy from within and around its periphery, Xi Jinping and the CCP have remained steadfast in maintaining public momentum in their ongoing struggle with the Abe government in Tokyo.

Unable to check Abe and his cohort’s perceived moves toward the fringes of historical revisionism, the CCP has responded by doing what it already knows how to do: It has raised the volume of critique and further globalized the ongoing Sino-Japanese history dispute. China has moved to reinforce its own existing state memes about the war with Japan through investment in education, more money being poured into anti-Japanese museums, mandating more quasi-relevant television programs and movies, and the dissemination of history education/propaganda. Beijing has also recognized how receptive the global community is to the narrative of wholesale Chinese victimization at Japanese hands during the Second World War and prior.

The recent establishment of two new national commemorative dates in China intended to criticize Japan reflects the CCP’s doubling down on the wartime victimization discourse. The Chinese People’s Congress decreed on 27 February 2014 that the PRC would henceforth create two new public days of commemoration, falling on 30 September (‘Martyrs’ Day’) and 13 December (‘National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims’).

Recent scholarship by Chang-Tai Hung, who has written extensively on nationalism and mobilization culture in both Republican and Communist China, logically told The New York Times that the construction of the new dates on the public calendar was in part an effort by the PRC to maintain the initiative when it comes to dealing with Japan.

Xi Jinping’s appearance at the 13 December memorial event was particularly carefully choreographed, and formed the spine of the entire country’s media narrative for that day. In his speech (full text) at the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanking Massacre, Xi’s language was fittingly emotive and pictorial. He evoked the ‘foul wind and bloody rain [腥风血雨]‘ of the Japanese occupation of the city in 1937-38. While his speech did not dwell excessively on Japanese atrocities, depictions of these were readily supplied by state media. Xi’s tour around the massive Memorial Hall included a look at its grisly photos. Survivor accounts on television did more of the heavy lifting, and a hard-working television crew from Jiangsu TV kept the flame burning all morning.

For listeners concerned with trends in Chinese history writing, Xi’s speech was striking insofar as it marked the full obliteration between any historiographical reticence by the CCP to embrace the Republic of China and its imperatives, at least when it comes to the war with Japan. Xi’s description of the war itself is a case in point:

On 7 July 1937, The Japanese invaders unleashed a full-scale invasion [of China], bringing huge destruction to the Chinese people, burning down Chinese cities and villages, spreading destruction in the four cardinal directions, extinguishing Chinese lives, exacerbating difficulties, bringing hunger and death across thousands of li of Chinese territory.

Xi even decried the fact that one-third of all the architecture in the city was destroyed in the invasion of Nanjing. The fact that Nanjing was the capital of the Republic of China, an entity which prior to the Second United Front had been devoted to the very destruction of the Chinese Communisty Party, is elided over here. The need to imply a United Front with the Kuomintang today means that the historical United Front is no longer of interest to the CCP or as part of war memory.

Xi’s inclusion of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was hardly surprising, but his endorsement of the work done by Nanjing military court run by Shi Mei’ao from 1946-1949 was quite revealing, insofar as it indicates how PRC legal scholars are absorbing the precedents of the ROC very much as their own. Historical ROC/Guomindang imperatives and policies are being rapidly absorbed by the CCP with respect not just to Tibet, but to the South China Sea territorial issue. The identification of the People’s Republic of China with the Tokyo Trials and Guomindang-led legal initiatives during the Chinese civil war should perhaps not be considered a surprise.

As with so many other aspects of Xi Jinping’s propaganda, there was present in Nanjing on 13 December kind of uncomfortable mixture of modern dictatorship, simplified nods to any given ancient Chinese practice that might be considered useful, and reprising of ideas that would be more at home in China’s Destiny than Quotations from Chairman Mao. The main example here is the large bronze tripod unveiled by Xi at the ceremony, which ‘symbolizes national wealth’ and future prosperity. This was incongruous in the extreme, and an obvious bid to graft the familiar ‘strong nation, wealthy military’ narrative onto the unrelenting pessimism and humiliation narrative that Nanking invariably represents. We are the peaceful ones here seems to be the secondary message. Again, it was a gesture more reminiscent of Chiang Kai-shek (or Li Hongzhang) than Mao Zedong.

Under Xi Jinping, the anti-Japanese commemoration calendar in China is now getting rather full. In addition to the implicit dates of commemoration of anti-Japanese demonstrations (4 May 1919, 9 December 1935), one wonders if the 7 July anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and full-scale Japanese invasion of China was somehow inadequate to embrace the national humiliation narrative.

Ambiguous Archipelago: Japan in the Chinese Press Today

Chinese netizens may be lavishing more attention on the South Korean pop star Rain (who, apparently, seeks nothing less than to abscond with Confucius’ bones to Seoul), but the Sino-Japanese relationship continues apace, with attendant action on the Chinese internet.

1. Transnational Nanking Massacre Research Team Completes Part One

The Sino-Japanese Joint Research Team has concluded the first stage of its work in Tokyo and has issued an interim report. The team has agreed in principle that Japan was indeed engaged in a “war of aggression” and that the Nanking Massacre should be titled as such, and noted as a crime against humanity. Bu Ping, head of modern history at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the preeminent global authority on Japanese chemical weapons use in China, is leading the Chinese delegation. His statement praised the Japanese delegation for their objectivity and the dispassionate nature of the joint discussions.

This is where things get interesting.

Netizen comments on the story are nothing short of livid: Hasn’t it already been established that Japan’s actions in Nanking were illegal and that Japan invaded China in a war that had everything to do with aggressive imperialism and nothing to do with anti-colonial liberation?

Because I know Bu Ping personally (and am fairly in awe of his prodigious, interesting, and genuinely significant work as a scholar), I think this friction is worth thinking upon. Perhaps, as others have noted, the people writing on Huanqiu’s BBS are pure crackpots, knee-jerk nationalists, losers who are pre-programmed to attack Japan and call the Japanese names. Peter Hays Gries has done some great research on “China’s new nationalism,” but I don’t know that he or anyone else has done enough work on nationalism on the Huanqiu (or Qingnian Cankao) BBS to quantify that. In the meantime, besides watching CCTV or reviewing the latest big books (as Danwei.org seems able to do), these boards function as a kind of public square in China. In a country where open debate is sometimes hard to discern on less interactive media like television or newspapers, this action is still worth checking out.

I would add as a final thought here that the netizens aren’t attacking Bu Ping directly, but they don’t appear to be terribly aware of why he’s a credible voice on the issue of Japanese war crimes, which gets to bigger issues of credibility and the internet generally.

After all, how is a distinguished professor supposed to respond to comments like this?:


Researching whatever: Isn’t little Japan still mad with its own greatness? [We] need to occupy Japan, capture the Emperor alive, bomb and destroy Japan, and afterwards, we can write the beautiful history of the 21st century as one where Japan is destroyed and falls! [Rough translation]

How has digital culture impacted images of Japan among Chinese youth, anyway? Isn’t anyone writing a book or a series of articles about gamer culture, BBS culture, the cultures of the Chinese internet cafes and the image of Japan within all three? I’m certainly not there yet, but at the moment it feels like a lacuna exists. I’ll laugh with joy when the KangRi Zhanzheng Yanjiu journal (War of Anti-Japanese Resistance Journal) in Beijing issues such a piece.

2. Online conversations are continuing regarding Japanese war crimes.

This one BBS posting from August 2009, entitled “Japanese War Criminals of the Second World War,” has been picking up response after response, and this thread is now laden with discussion of, and data about, Japanese war crimes in China. It’s one to watch, and the Huanqiu Shibao is subtly keeping it on the agenda through little linklets on its regular discussion boards.

3. Parsing Words: Debating Verbs in the War of Resistance

Were Japanese armies in East Asia engaged in “invasion” or “liberation”? This discussion board takes on the question and assertions by Japanese revisionists.

4. Critiques of Japanese Society as a Means of Promoting Reform in China

This story about sexual harassment of women in Japanese companies is a signal example of how what might be pigeonholed as “anti-Japanese news” is in fact a complex critique of the PRC. Once you get past the surly photos of Japanese males going way over the line of propriety, what you get in this article is a long argument for the power of unions and workers’ association to counter various abuse of white-collar workers.

The principle of self-criticism is still active in China; what is particularly interesting is how news about China’s neighbors triggers that impulse in various ways. Even North Korea prompts introspection!

Let’s just not touch the Cold War’s impact though, shall we?

5. Japanese reports reveal schism re: postwar developments.

Whereas Xinhua is pushing a harmonious line regarding the meetings in Nanjing to readers on the mainland, in fact the joint research discussions reached a very important impasse: According to Mainichi Shimbun, China refuses to get into discussion of the postwar:

Following Thursday’s meeting, University of Tokyo Graduate School professor Shinichi Kitaoka, who headed the Japanese research team, and Bu Ping, director of the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, held a press conference to release the preface of the report.

“It is difficult to take up issues that are directly connected to our times. There is a great difference in views between Japan and China over such issues as the Cold War, the Korean War and the Peace Treaty signed in San Francisco,” Kitaoka said.

Bu agreed: “We need to take it into consideration what effect it would have on the public (to take up those issues).”

As I happen to have a book manuscript and some fresh publications going on anti-Japanese sentiment in the early postwar (1945-1952), I suppose this makes my work potentially, and sadly, significant.

Coda: Thanks to the very impressive folks at JingDaily for the link to my related editorial, “War Memory vs. Hello Kitty.”

Chinese Heir Apparent in Japan

Xi Jinping, the current consensus candidate to succeed Hu Jintao in about three years’ time, is on a tour of Japan.  He has met, not without excitement or a bit of controversy in Tokyo, Akihito, the Japanese emperor.

via Xinhua, click image for story in Chinese

Oddly enough, December 13 was the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking; Xinhua quietly issued a few new photographs of the battle for Nanking, seeming far more interested in achieving present aims with Japan than settling past scores.

Japanese artillerymen fire a 105 mm cannon into Nanking, December 1937 -- click for link to the grainy gallery

Xinhua is, naturally, following Xi’s trip ardently.

German Sources on the War of Resistance/Rape of Nanking

What do you know about German sources on the Rape of Nanking and the War of Resistance besides the diary of John Rabe?  If you’re like most people, not much.

I wanted to share a few new tidbits from sources I recently found, as a means of indicating that in the future, more work along these lines could (and should) be done.  The point is that German (and French, for that matter) scholarship and primary sources on the Rape of Nanking and the War of Resistance really need to be consulted and understood in order for all of us to have a clearer view of what actually happened, who various witnesses were, and how the events were interpreted around the world in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Lily Abegg was a reporter for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in China in the late 1930s and travelled all around the country.  Her description of the battle of Shanghai, and the Japanese entry into Nanking, is not completely hair-raising, but it does add some detail.  For instance, she tells the following story:

Shortly before the fall of Nanking, thousands of wounded came into the city, but there they could not count on the ruling [KMT] to take care of them any longer.  Once, two thousand (2,000) wounded  from the Shanghai front arrived in the city in medical train cars, and lay there for two days.  There, in the station, the patients who had died in the meantime were laid, and the wagons were needed for other uses.  The dead fouled the air [Die Toten verpessteten die Luft.]  Refugees from the city ran and jumped over the wounded and stole away with their packs.  Members of the international aid committees went to the ostensible Chinese leaders and demanded a single ambulence, but there was no money with which to purchase gasoline for the vehicle.  Finally one brought an automobile….But no one [foreigner] was left to move all the wounded.  Chinese observers stood by and watched.  They wanted the foreigners to do it themselves, but then a brave policeman emerged and declared that this wouldn’t do [das ginge nun doch nicht].  Finally… the leaderless people began to move themselves.

[Lilly Abegg, China’s Erneuerung: Der Raum als Waffe [China’s Renewal: The Land as Weapon], Frankfurt: 1940, pp. 167-167, translation from the German by Adam Cathcart]

There are plenty of more details in this text, including an analysis of General Iwane Matsui’s tactics in the battles at Shanghai that led toward Nanking, and more worth analyzing.  But instead I will leave you with a few relevant photographs.


"The Japanese rule the air. But Japanese bombers must fly over endless mountain ranges before they reach Chongqing." From Lily Abegg, China's Erneuerung, 1940.


"Chinese with their forbidden opium crop in the northern Ching'an range," from Die Mandschurei, 1937.


"On strange land. Refugees from the battle areas do not hinder the progress of Japanese troops." Lily Abegg, China's Erneuerung.

Further Assessment of the Iris Chang Papers

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]?

Tiananmen Square

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.

B. Fung

Impressions of the Iris Chang Papers

It’s been a whirlwind, head-bending kind of two-day sprint through a minor swath of the Hoover Institute Archives at Stanford University.

Iris Chang wasn’t my only target — thanks to some very diligent young colleagues I was also lucky to find my way into a thicket of Korean War propaganda (some of which I hope to leak out on this blog), more work by Sheldon Harris, and a few hundred pages of the master diplomat-analyst O. Edmund Clubb in the tendentious 1950s.  But more on that later.

All things considered, Iris Chang’s incredible energy, her coiled personality, and her unchallenged productivity are revealed in these papers, where ultimate inwardness (better phrased in the German innigkeit) coexists with statements to her self like “Celebrity Affords Certain Advantages.”  And not that she cares anymore (she being deceased, and her papers thus available for my perusal), but the experience leaves me quite conflicted.

Certain very important hallmarks of historical research shine through in Iris Chang’s materials regarding the preparation for her groundbreaking book, The Rape of Nanking (1997).

Drawing from the sheer mass of the photocopied materials from such other archives as the Yale Divinity Library’s huge missionary archive, Chang took pains to cite cite cite her assertions, something that can’t be said for Jung Chang’s treatment of Mao. At least two boxes of printouts show her extracting, isolating her every sentence onto separate sheets of paper and explaining to herself what source it the sentence is based upon.  This is the a kind of thorough research and writing method with which most scholars can’t necessarily don’t always bother themselves, even if some of her sources are a bit suspect.

She is an active reader, using pencil and highlighter to good effect, amassing much data.  Going through a fraction of these papers has given me more respect for Chang — of course she is going to be attacked for leaving details from important sources out!  There are a lot of sources, and each has a life of its own.  What is really needed is a huge and comprehensive volume of primary sources as a companion piece to the book.

She has transcripts of video interviews conducted with then-New York Times reporter Tillman Durdin and his charming China Hand missionary wife, letters from missionaries like Fitch and Bates and Magee, of course, and makes notes on these things in abundant pencil, mixing English with Chinese.

Iris Chang reads Chinese!  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there is a huge amount of material in these papers that reveals that Chang in the aftermath of the book’s completion was wrapped up wholly in its marketing, and was in some ways beset by various proposals (both business and personal) in the several years after its publication.

In one notebook excerpt from April 2000, she records her impressions of a meeting with a certain Hollywood agent affiliated with Mel Gibson.  After learning that “a profascist in Japan called me a Chinese slut,” Chang gets a pitch from the agent.  It appears that he wanted her to sell him the rights to her story, or work with him to turn the story of her book into cinema.  “Your passion is the story,” he appears to tell her, “you didn’t do it for the money,” before offering either $50,000 or 250,000 to make it happen.   At the end of the conversation memorandum, written in Chang’s rapid black ball-point sprawl is the sentence “contact Jerry Bruckenheimer.”

These are things that most history professors, and full-time researchers of history, don’t deal with.  They move on to the next book, teach the next class, apply for the next grant.

They forget to call Jerry Bruckenheimer because they are too wrapped up in the secondary literature.

Chang took more of  a reporter’s approach to The Rape of Nanking.  She uses more David Bergamini than anyone else, and a few boxes of photocopies from relevant secondary works (like an advance copy of Herbert Bix’s Hirohito [chapters 13-17] and the promising book by Iritani The Wartime Psychology of the Japanese People) lie basically unannotated.  I didn’t find her copy of Bergamini.

One of my students mentioned that Iris Chang should have had a colloquy with Jung Chang.  I thought that might have been interesting indeed.

In a subsequent post I hope to reflect further on her own self-analysis in these writings.  Like a mostly-empty notebook entitled “Meetings With Japanese Peace Activists,” even in the blank spaces in these papers is gathered much, much food for thought.

Coda: More of my recent essays on recent Sino-Japanese relations, and Iris Chang, as reflected in the Chinese press and in the work of Japanese manga artists like Kobayshi Yoshinori can be accessed here.