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The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

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In December 1937, the Japanese army invaded the ancient city of Nanking, systematically raping, torturing, and murdering more than 300,000 Chinese civilians.

This book 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 many.

331 pages, ebook

First published October 14, 1997

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About the author

Iris Chang

6 books352 followers
Iris Shun-Ru Chang was a Chinese-American historian and journalist. She was best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking. She committed suicide on November 9, 2004, when she was just 36 years old.

The daughter of two university professors who had emigrated from China, Chang was born in Princeton, New Jersey and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois where she attended the University Laboratory High School from which she graduated in 1985. She then earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in 1989, during which time she also worked as a New York Times stringer, writing six front-page articles over the course of one year. After brief stints at the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune she pursued a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University, and then embarked on a career as an author who also lectured and wrote articles for various magazines. She married Bretton Lee Douglas, whom she had met in college, and had one son, Christopher, who was 2 years old at the time of her death. She lived in San Jose, California in the final years of her life.

Chang wrote three books documenting the experiences of the Chinese in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her first book, entitled Thread of the Silkworm (1995), tells the story of the Chinese professor, Dr. Tsien Hsue-shen, during the Red Scare in the 1950s. Although Tsien was one of the founders of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and had helped the US military to debrief scientists from Nazi Germany for many years, he was falsely accused of being both a spy and a member of the Communist Party USA, and was thus placed under house arrest from 1950 until his deportation to the People's Republic of China in September 1955. Upon his return to China, Tsien developed the Dongfeng missile and later the Silkworm missile which would be used by the Iraqi military not only during its war on Iran but (ironically) against the US-led coalitions during Gulf Wars I and II.

Her second book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997), was published on the 60th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre, and was motivated in part by her own grandparents' stories about their escape from the massacre. It documents atrocities committed against the Chinese by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War and includes interviews with the victims. The book attracted both praise from some quarters for exposing the details of the atrocity and criticism from others because of alleged inaccuracies. After the publication of the book, Chang campaigned for the Japanese government to apologize for its troops' wartime conduct and to pay reparations to the victims. The work was the first English-language full-length nonfiction account of the atrocity itself and remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for ten weeks. Based on the book, an American documentary film, Nanking, was released in 2007.

Chang's third book and final book was significantly enough The Chinese in America (2003), a history of how the Chinese in the United States have always been treated as suspect outsiders despite their obvious adherence to the American ethic of hard work which they not only excelled at but which they were led to expect would assure them of acceptance as full Americans instead of the envy and alienation that it has continually provoked.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,347 reviews
Profile Image for Taka.
688 reviews532 followers
April 10, 2008

As a Japanese, it pisses me off how history turned out for the Class A war criminals who never got reprimanded or punished after the war, and it pisses me off all the more for the government's steady and FUCKED-UP denial of its past war crimes. Both the ultranationalists and those conservative politicians who outright label the incident a mere "fabrication" and "lie" deserve to die right away without mercy of any kind. In Germany, it's punishable by law to deny Holocaust. In Japan, the government encourages and at times forces the denial. As a Japanese, I've never been more embarrassed, ashamed, and angered by my country than its infantile, perverted, disgraceful, repugnant, and intolerable attempts to cover up its own wrongdoings. Fuck you Japan. Fuck you all war criminals.

Putting aside my personal sentiments, the book is a gripping tale of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army in Nanking, and it is truly horrifying. It's hard to believe that people could do such things. Frankly, it has become my fantasy to be omnipotent, go back to the Naking in 1937, and kill every single Japanese soldier who was running amok at Nanking. Really. I'd really like to kill them.

Again putting aside my personal sentiments, it's a book definitely worth reading. It's only 225 pages including the introduction and epilogue, and it fascinatingly tells the incident from three different perspectives. Though many people have criticized her sources and the objectivity of firsthand references, it seems like there is a preponderance, if not an overwhelming amount, of evidence in support of the incident as historical fact, and the incident and the heroes involved in it should never be forgotten.

A great tale & a must read.
Profile Image for Ed.
880 reviews116 followers
June 21, 2008
Iris Chang committed suicide. I can't help wondering if doing the research for this book didn't create or deepen her depression. She was an obviously passionate person and turning that passion loose on uncovering what really happened in Nanking in December 1937 must have shook her deeply.

Just reading it shook me deeply.

As a history major in college, I was aware of the allegations against the Japanese in WWII, not just in Nanking but all over S.E. Asia. As an ongoing student of WWII and someone who has traveled all over S.E. Asia, I am even more convinced that the level of brutality that the Japanese visited on the "liberated" peoples of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere was matched or exceeded only by the Holocaust in Europe.

I, too, have talked to survivors of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, and Malaysia and their stories, while not as dramatic as Chang's, were nevertheless riveting and horrifying. I stood in the hallway of what was once a Girl's high school in Manila where 400 young women were raped and eventually killed by drunken Japanese soldiers who expected to die as the Americans approached Manila. I met an old nun who still could not keep the tears from her eyes as she related the story.

So, I have no problem believing that the incidents Chang chronicles and the eyewitness and diary accounts she relates are true. I am also enough of a historian to recognize that she wrote the book as a journalist not as a historian. That belief does not lessen the importance of what she has done in trying to lift the veil from an episode the Japanese would love to have the world forget.

That some Japanese continue to deny, not only the brutality of the rape of Nanking, but also the brutality they visited on every country they occupied is a stain on the rest of the Japanese people. Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust is a joke compared to Japanese officials and academics denying the Rape of Nanking.

This book is also a must read for anyone who believes that these kinds of brutal happenings are anomalies for as Chang points out in the epilogue, "The Rape of Nanking should be perceived as a cautionary tale...." She goes on to say that human beings are capable of the worst kind of inhuman behavior if the circumstances are right.

Our civilization is a thin veneer.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
July 31, 2018
Iris Chang received hate mail, death threats and academic scorn following her publication of The Rape of Nanking in 1997. Chang had spent considerable time and energy researching the book, hoping that her work could bring attention to a horrific time that seemed to somehow have been lost in the history books – a winter and spring of unimaginable horror in 1937 and 1938 following the Japanese capture and occupation of the Chinese city of Nanking.

“As the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.”

Negative critical remarks ranged from condescending dismissals of her historic narrative and research methods and her conclusions to outright denials and accusations of fabrication. Nationalistic Japanese factions and scholars went out of their way to discredit and heap abuse on Ms. Chang. Snotty academics lined up to ridicule her findings and many dismissed her accomplishment as the work of an amateur.

“The Rape of Nanking did not penetrate the world consciousness in the same manner as the Holocaust or Hiroshima because the victims themselves had remained silent.”

Yet, incredibly, Chang’s sources were eye witnesses to the massacre, survivors and rape victims. The author referenced contemporaneous news reports, photography and news reels. The book documents the confessions and concessions of JAPANESE soldiers who years later still felt great sorrow for what they had done. A NAZI visitor was so devastated by what he saw that he dedicated his time and risked personal injury to assist the Chinese and later brought his report back to Berlin to alert Hitler to the actions of Germany’s Eastern ally.

Reports vary as to whether 50,000 or 300,000 Chinese were murdered by the invading Japanese army. Likewise, historians disagree as to whether the rape victims number from 100,000 to as high as 800,000. Even if the most conservative reports are accepted, this is still a demonic and sanguinary event that should be chronicled and remembered, whose victims should be honored and whose aggressors should be exposed and chastened. Ms. Chang’s detractors should be ashamed of themselves for quibbling over reasonable speculations and for attempts to find explanations for the Japanese actions at Nanking and since.

“Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.”

Seven years after writing these words, the result of months of exhausting and heartbreaking research, and after steadfastly defending her work, Ms. Chang herself succumbed to depression and took her own life. Whether she had given up on humanity or our fragile hold on civility, or was simply overwhelmed by the towering and devastating weight of obstinate denials we may never know. But like Elie Wiesel’s Night and William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany this is a painful, difficult book to read but one that should be to remind us of how tenuous is our civilization and how quickly can be the descent into monstrosity.

Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,160 followers
January 13, 2020
I rated this book, but how can one rate an account of atrocities ..... For me, the rating is just a symbol of how important such books are... I had read a review by a Friend and immediately decided to get a copy and make the name Nanking mean something to me as I had never read any books on this massacre.
The book is harrowing, terrifying and most upsetting, and I would recommend it only to those readers who are prepared for most graphic descriptions.
Ms Chang provides us with an insight into the Japanese history and the 19th century transformation, and then moves on to the war and the capture of Nanking in 1937. We are offered the accounts of the Chinese civilians, the Japanese soldiers and some Americans and Europeans who lived in the city and provided as much assistance as possible and made efforts to inform the world about the massacre.

Profile Image for Nika.
153 reviews162 followers
June 10, 2022
4.5 stars

"Whatever the course of postwar history, the Rape of Nanking will stand as a blemish upon the honor of human beings. But what makes the blemish particularly repugnant is that history has never written a proper end for the story."

Iris Chang narrates the gruesome story of the mass violence against civilians and prisoners of war in Nanking, the former capital of China. The massacre was committed in December 1937 - January 1938 by the Japanese troops that occupied Nanking. The author does not shy away from describing the horrible tortures to which the army of invaders subjected those inhabitants of the city who were not able to flee. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that many civilians from the adjacent areas sought refuge within Nanking's walls. During several weeks Nanking was turned into hell. The sets of atrocities related in the book may make you feel sick.

Iris intends to rescue victims of the Nanking massacre from historical oblivion by allowing them to tell their stories. She interviewed several survivors of the Nanking massacre most of whom lived in poverty. Even small financial compensation from Japan could have been a great help to them.
One of the famous personal testimonies involves Li Xouying, "a woman who not only suffered thirty-seven bayonet wounds during her struggle against the Japanese but survived and remained robust enough to narrate and play-act the story almost sixty years later."

The author’s goal is to provide the public with information about the Rape of Nanking - a war crime committed by the Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese war.
The style of the book is far from being dry, sometimes emotions filter through the pages, but, in my opinion, this does not take away from the quality of the research.
Chang brings to light the fact that many of those who bore responsibility for these crimes escaped justice entirely or with minimal consequence. The most prominent example includes emperor Hirohito, who after the end of WWII was granted immunity from investigation. Japanese ultranationalists continue to deny that a holocaust in Nanking ever took place, calling it “a story made up by the Chinese.”
Iris Chang regards those attempts to deny or downplay the number of victims as a second rape. The author acknowledges that “she was terrified that the history of three hundred thousand murdered Chinese might disappear just as they themselves had disappeared under Japanese occupation.” To prevent such a scenario and restore historical justice, at least partially, Iris wrote her book.

Nanking's population, including the remains of the Chinese army, could find some support in the International Security Committee founded and run by a group of foreigners.
The author does not hide her admiration for John Rabe, the German businessman and member of the NSDAP who led an international effort to shelter the population of the city.
Using his position as a representative of the country allied to Japan, he put a great effort into saving civilians. The author compares him to Oskar Schindler.
Rabe's diary, which was revealed to the public a few decades after the events, contains many horrific details and corroborates accounts of the other witnesses.

This tragic and disturbing account of the horrible events of the recent past forces us to reflect on two questions.
First, why do people under certain circumstances turn into monsters who not only commit atrocities but boast about them?
Second, how does it happen that certain atrocities become a part of collective memory and focus of mainstream culture, whilst others seem to be resigned to oblivion?

As to the first question, Chang sees one of the possible explanations of why the Japanese troops were so cruel towards harmless people in their rigid military education and the hierarchical nature of Japanese society.
Before the invasion of Nanking, the Japanese military had for years subjected its own soldiers to endless humiliation.
After taking Nanking, Japanese soldiers probably vented their suppressed anger on the Chinese whom they were taught to regard as "subhuman beings."

Moving on to the second question, transient political circumstances and tactical goals often define the choice as to which atrocities history will keep and those that will be presented only in specialized articles. Atrocities are in the eye of the beholder, comes to my mind.

The last point that I think would be appropriate in this context touches on the сomplexity of collective memory in Japan largely due to its complicated history. The defeat of Japan in World War II enabled the victim narrative. One scholar explains this narrative as: "the Japanese people, including even the emperor, are imagined to have been a singular and uniform collectivity that was victimized by the military elite." This allows the Japanese people to consider themselves victims of war, downplaying the responsibility for the war crimes.
However, as historians know, a victim at one time and in one place may also be guilty of horrible things at another time and in another place.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,134 followers
February 23, 2018
By far the most painful book I have ever read and yet a book that should be READ, passed on, READ, passed on, READ and passed on and ON so that new generations of people learn what those forever silent can't relate to their loved ones because they themselves have been Massacred

I came across this book having just finished White Chrysanthemum a historical fiction account of The Comfort Women and wanting to read more on this time in history I found this book.
The Nanking Massacre was an episode of mass murder and mass rape in 1937 that lasted for 6 weeks, committed by Japanese troops against the residents of Nanjing (Nanking), then the capital of the Republic of China, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. More than 300,000 chinese civilians and soldiers were systematically raped, tortured, beheaded and murdered in the most unthinkable and horrific ways.
I have been vaguely aware of this terrible time in histroy but have never read anything about it and when I discussed this book with my work colleagues not one of them had heard of the Rape of Nanking or read or seen any documentaries related to this massacare which in itself is pretty shocking as this was a Holocaust which the world seems to have conveniently forgotten or swept under the carpet.

This is a DIFFICULT read as the descriptions of the atrocities are very very graphic but thankfully for me I only had to read about it and not endure it or witness it therefore the nightmares I experienced after reading passages in this book are nothing compared to what Chinese people still seeking justice must experience when they read a book like this and think how their ancestors met their fate.
An extremely well written and researced book and the author uses sources such as diaries, government documents, newspapers reports and interview with survivors.

Where there is evil there is sometimes amazing acts of bravery and heroism and this book really does highlight a few amazingly good people who saved thousands and I loved how the author researched and highlighted their stories and the good work they did among all the evil.
I was shocked, sickened, saddened and angry reading this book but above all I was EDUCATEDand I have already ordered two copies of this book for family members.
The Life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,311 reviews120k followers
October 18, 2014
I read this book in 1999 and was surprised to find that it was not on my GR list. I was not writing detailed reviews at the time so my single paragraph will have to suffice, but I did take down a few significant passages from the book, and pasted those at the bottom.

This book tells of the Japanese destruction, truly a "rape" of Nanking in December 1937. It is estimated that up to 350,000 people were murdered within a few weeks, many horribly. The Japanese have never acknowledged this atrocity, and in fact many of those involved remained in influential government positions. Because of cold war politics, most of the perpetrators of this were spared punishment.

The book was detailed and chilling. I have not yet seen the documentary, which is supposed to be excellent. It is on my Netflix queue.

While Japan is capable of greatness, too often their intensity and creativity have been put to dark purposes. Nanking was one instance. A recent news item about how Japan is doing its utmost to hang on to its xenophobia - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/03/wor...

Book quotes:

p 217
Some Japanese scholars believe that the horrors of the Rape of Nanking and other outrages of the Sino-Japanese war were caused by a phenomenon called the "transfer of oppression." According to Tanaka Yuki, author of Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II, the modern Japanese Army had great potential for brutality from the moment of its creation for two reasons: the arbitrary and cruel treatment that the military inflicted on its own officers and soldiers, and the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, in which status was dictated by proximity to the Emperor. Before the invasion of Nanking, the Japanese military had subjected its own soldiers to endless humiliation. Japanese soldiers were forced to wash the underwear of officers or stand meekly while superiors slapped them until they streamed blood. Using Orwellian language, the routine striking of Japanese soldiers, or bentatsu, was termed an "act of love" by the officers, and the violent discipline of the Japanese Navy through tekkan sensei, or "the iron fist," was often called ai-no-muchi, or "whip of love."

It has often been suggested that those with the least power are often the most sadistic if given the power of life and death over people even lower on the pecking order, and the rage engendered by this rigid pecking order was suddenly given an outlet when Japanese soldiers went abroad. In foreign lands or colonized territories, the Japanese soldiers-representatives of the emperor enjoyed tremendous power among the subjects. In China even the lowliest Japanese private was considered superior to the most powerful and distinguished native, and it is easy to see how years of suppressed anger, hatred and fear of authority could have erupted in uncontrollable violence at Nanking. The Japanese soldier had endured in silence whatever his superiors had chosen to deal out to him, and now the Chinese had to take whatever he chose to deal out to them.

p 219
Whatever the course of postwar history, the Rape of Nanking will stand as a blemish upon the honor of human beings. But what makes the blemish particularly repugnant is that history has never written a proper end for the story. Sixty years later the Japanese as a nation are still trying to bury the victims of Nanking-not under the soil, as in 1937, but into historical oblivion. In a disgraceful compounding of the offense, the story of the Nanking massacre is barely known in the west because so few people have tried to document and narrate it systematically to the public.

p 220
There are several important lessons to be learned from Nanking, and one is that civilization itself is paper thin. There are those who believe that the Japanese are uniquely sinister-a dangerous race of people who will never change. But after reading several file cabinets worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I have to conclude that Japan's behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise. The Rape of Nanking should be perceived as a cautionary tale - an illustration of how easily human beings can be encouraged to allow their teenagers to be molded into efficient killing machines able to suppress their better natures

Another lesson to be gleaned from Nanking is the role of power in genocide. Those who have studied the patterns of large-scale killings throughout history have noted that the sheer concentration of power in government is lethal - that only a sense of absolute unchecked power can make atrocities like the Rape of Nanking possible. In the 1990's R. J. Runnel, perhaps the world's greatest authority on democide (a term he coined to include both genocide and government mass murder), completed a systematic and quantitative study of atrocities in both this century and ancient times, an impressive body of research that he summed up with a play on the famous Lord Acton line: "Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely." The less restraint on power within a government, Rummel found, the more likely the government will act on the whims of psychologically generated darker impulses of its leaders to wage war on foreign governments. Japan was no exception, and atrocities such as the raps of Nanking can be seen as a predictable if not inevitable outgrowth of ceding to an authoritarian regime, dominated by a military and imperial elite, the unchallenged power to commit an entire people to realizing the sick goals of the few with the unbridled power to set them.

And there is a third lesson to be learned, one that is perhaps the most distressing of all. It lies in the frightening ease with which the mind can accept genocide, turning us all into passive spectators to the unthinkable. The Rape of Nanking was front-page news across the world, and yet most of the world stood by and did nothing while an entire city was butchered. The international response to the Nanking atrocities was eerily akin to the more recent response to the atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda: while thousands have died almost unbelievably cruel deaths, the entire world has watched CNN and wrung its hands. One could argue that the United States and other countries failed to intervene earlier to prevent the Nazis from carrying out their "final solution" because the genocide was carried out in wartime secrecy and with such cold efficiency that until Allied soldiers liberated the camps and saw with their own eyes the extent of the horror, most people could not accept the reports they had been getting as literally true. But for the Rape of Nanking, or for the murders in the former Yugoslavia, there can be no such excuse. The Nanking atrocities were splashed prominently across the pages of newspapers like the New York Times, while the Bosnia outrages were played out daily on televisions in virtually every living room. Apparently some quirk in human nature allows even the most unspeakable acts of evil to become banal within minutes, provided only that they occur far enough away to pose no personal threat.

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,783 reviews14.2k followers
January 2, 2020
Two questions. One: Why were we never taught this in school along with the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Second: How do I get the horror of which this book is so full, out of my head? That other countries, including my own, knew exactly what was going on, as filmstrip was smuggled out of the countries, as well as first hand accounts by reporters, did nothing about what was happening in China. Makes me so angry. Bet if oil was involved, we would have been there in a flash.

Did Hiter learn from Japan exactly how to inspire hatred for a group of people, how to treat those who are only considered animals? That Japan has denied that this happened, even today. That so many who committed these atrocities lived long lives, without persecution or prosecution, is beyond belief. In a way this upset me as much if not more than the Holocaust because so little attention has been paid to what happened in Nagasaki.

Everyone doess need to know, read what happened here, but I am so glad I have finished. This is, however, another atrocity that should not be forgotten.

The narrator was Anne Field and she had a very strong voice, appropriate for a book such as this and I give the narration four stars as well
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
March 25, 2018
A dark rabbit-hole into the abyss, this is. Or, as Jaidee says “we suck as a species!”
In December 1937 Japanese troops advanced from Shanghai to Nanjing. All of the sickeningly familiar war crime atrocities occurred. It's like there's a template or step-by-step guide that gets followed.

Chang’s research found the diary of John Rabe which provides an improbable ray of hope in all the atrocious horror.

The Nazi Who Saved Nanking
Perhaps the most fascinating character to emerge from the history of the Rape of Nanking is the German businessman John Rabe. To most of the Chinese in the city, he was a he was a hero, “the living Buddha of Nankin, “ the legendary head of the International Safety Zone who saved hundreds of thousands of Chinese lives. But to the Japanese, Rabe was a strange and unlikely savior. For he was not only a German national—a citizen of the Nazi Party in Nanking.

Profile Image for Infinite Jen.
87 reviews430 followers
February 24, 2023
If you (like me) harbor an inscrutable fascination with the concept of evil and the indelible stamp it has left on our history as a species, the graphic examination of human cruelties depicted here should be enough to quell your thanatopic compulsions for awhile. Have you ever, while experimenting with a certain synthetic ergoline alkaloid, egressed through the wrong Huxleyian postern into the waiting arms of a nightmarish trip which forced you to confront the sinister kernel deep within your being which would allow you to subordinate yourself to a mob and commit unspeakable acts of coalitionary violence? Here you will find further confirmation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s immortal assertion: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This book is the product an amazing woman’s implacable will. Iris Chang, who was determined to wrest this event from the Orwellian Sarlacc Pit which threatened to bathe this tragedy in the powerful digestive enzymes of our transient attention (the collective amnesia cultivated by the Japanese government as well, which conservative Japanese academics accept and perpetuate to this day, insisting that the claims made in the book are massively exaggerated, and the motives of the Japanese army thoroughly mischaracterized.) and dissolve it from history. The Rape of Nanking, as the name may suggest, is not a book for the squeamish, especially those who are sensitive to depictions of sexual assault. Hundreds of thousands of people were subjected to a ruthless culling, many tortured in ways that stagger the imagination. Children were not spared, with young girls being raped to death by soldiers, or held at gunpoint to be raped by their own fathers for the amusement of officers. (Before being skewered by bayonets.) Please note that this meager list of horrors is far from exhaustive, and you’ll find much else to turn your stomach in this theodician chronicle.

Chang’s book covers three aspects of this event; the assault of the city and the subsequent occupation (with all its attendant ghastliness), the brave efforts of the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone to provide protection for Chinese residents, and the efforts of the postwar Japanese to cover up the atrocity.

Marveling at suffering on a scope and scale that would embarrass even the most ambitious psychopath, I asked myself the question (not for the first time, as this seems to be a perennial query) “Why I we read about things like this?” Which may be tantamount to asking why people study history at all, since peace and prosperity rarely seem to occupy our attention the way strife does. I don’t think this question admits of a simple answer. But, as I alluded to in my opening, I think it’s vitally important to realize how otherwise normal individuals can become complicit in the worst acts of history. How susceptible each of us are to indoctrination. How easily nationalistic fervor can circumscribe our ability to see the common humanity in others. How we disindividuate in large groups and offload our cognition to the barbaric whims of the super organism which collectively animates our tribal emotions. We would all like to think that we’re exceptions to this; the facts suggest otherwise.

Violent psychopaths represent about 1% of the population, if the official score is to be believed, and I assume, unless you’re living in a country ravaged by war, your every day experience bears this conclusion out. As, presumably, you are sitting in relative comfort and viewing this through the most magical Rube Goldberg machine ever designed since Pee-wee Herman’s mechanistic genius served him breakfast through a system of levers, pulleys, dominos, fans, candles, anvils, ferris wheels, tubes, gears, simple heat engine birds, fossil pterodactyls, pneumatic arms with suction cups mounted inside squirt guns, gilded cherub statues, mandibular force production curtesy of tyrannosaurus skeleton, and pancake flipping Animatronic Abraham Lincoln, (i.e. The Internet) and there is no one presently attempting to burry you up to your waist in order to make sport of your helplessness as packs of ravenous German Shepards eat you alive. (Yes, that’s in the book). Even if we account for a disproportionate number of those individuals gravitating towards military service, you still can’t escape the reality that ordinary people, under the right circumstances, can be truly monstrous.

I think another reason that I read history of this kind is to fill my gratitude meter. When times are difficult for me, it’s not uncommon that I find myself reaching for dark books. For myself, it must be a kind of palliative against becoming so entangled by my own comparatively trivial struggles that I lose that vital sense of perspective which allows me to be thankful for the great blessings still present in my imperfect world, much of it unearned and, arguably, undeserved.
Profile Image for Thomas.
770 reviews175 followers
May 23, 2018
The people killed by the Japanese were at least 300,000 may have been twice that. The author has passed on, but there is a recorded CSPAN interview of her talking about her book. See booktv.org
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
419 reviews364 followers
February 6, 2020
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang is a shocking book, containing details of the most horrific atrocities imaginable, committed by the Japanese Army during a short period in 1937-38 after they captured the Chinese capital - Nanking.

Around 300,000 people were murdered in some of the most terrible ways, tortured and raped. The descriptions of these acts decided belief. The city was also destroyed leaving those left behind to rebuild their tattered lives in absolute poverty living with those terrible, terrible memories.

It is so sad and so umacceptable that most of us don't know about these atrocities. It is perhaps even worse that most of the perpetrators seemed to get away with these crimes. Even the Emperor Hirohito aas allowed to live a dignified life into old age. That is unfathomable.

Author Iris Chang not only writes a book that describes the horrors in explicit detail she also draws parallels to other atrocities such as those committed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, and how that regime seemed to be made accountable for their crimes, very publicly. Not so with Japan. Seems they have a selective memory of the war and see their part as fighting against Western Imperialism, the rest of the world knows the real role they played. Nanking is the story everyone should know, including the Japanese.

So sad and so angry. Humankind is the pits. RIP Ms Chang, you were a brave woman writing this, this story needs to be told.

5 Stars
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,361 reviews795 followers
December 30, 2015
Is #JeSuisCharlie still trending on Twitter? Or, rather, is it still fashionable to bleat and moan about "freedom of speech" without mention of the First Amendment Zones in Ferguson, the labeling of protesters as looters and militants by mass media, this particular gem of a post, and so many other violations of the right to speak that aren't saturated enough with European imperialism to merit the world's attention? Just look how the Boko Haram massacre of thousands was received by a world in mourning for French journalists, or how little attention was paid to the French government's treatment of Muslims both past and present before. I didn't watch them myself, but I've heard that many a celebrity during the Golden Globes cheered for Charlie Hebdo but stayed mum during a speech on BlackLivesMatter that, despite all media black outs to the contrary, is still going strong. Also Bill Cosby rape jokes by white feminists, cause freedom of speech, right?

Where's the movie for this? Where's the industry on par with the Holocaust entertainment business the US is currently enraptured with? There's plenty of adulation for US Americans and other variations on those of European descent facing down hordes of non-European scum, so why not aggrandize this to as an obscene degree as Schindler's List? The author killed herself seven years after publication, leaving notes behind that spoke of government pressure and other sordid influences pulling at her from the dark. Where is your anger, JeSuisCharliests, over that?

This edition includes pictures of the atrocities because, depending on who you are and where you live, your right to be mourned won't be respected unless your body is put on public display in all its shame and mutilation. Depending on who you are killed by, your right to be mourned will subsidized in accordance to whether you are legally a human being in comparison to the legal humanity of your killer. Two of my teachers thought it necessary to strip the Charlie Hebdo shooting of its extenuating context in order to prove a point of satire or philosophical discussion of "What is terrorism", the latter gleefully pinning the difference between war and insurgent terror on whether it was conducted by a "legal state". If it is possible to become a "legal state" through centuries of genocide and enslavement that are reinforced to this day via military industrial complex, what does that mean for our "legal" right to freedom of speech?

Japan at the time of the Rape of Nanking was a legal state, so apparently Chang was wrong in calling their actions "terrorism". As such, a more sanitized, legal, "correct" term would be collateral damage, the likes of which rank with Guantánamo Diary which every #JeSuisCharliest should be reading if there's an actual fucking point to their sociopolitical bandwagon. Freedom of speech, freedom of speech, freedom of speech, and when you have drone strikes of Yemen weddings, Mike Brown Memorials and sleepless homeless people being set fire to with equal impunity on US soil, denials by the Canadian government of the democide of its First Nations women, and #KillAllMuslims and #ItAintRape trending on Twitter, don't come crying to me about what a hateful world we live in. It is one where a white boy can slaughter college students and elementary school children alike in the land of the free and the home and the brave, and if you don't see a correlation between the brutal Japanese indoctrination of their soldiers and the reception of American Sniper, you're either a fool or a big fan of dehumanization so long as it's aimed in the right direction.

I wonder how many people read this to support their xenophobia in regards to Japanese people. I wonder how many people passed off the author's ending of her own life as typical of her kind. I wonder how many people excused the US' enabling of Japan's historical denial as a necessary international strategy of upholding "peace". I've seen a lot of reviews commenting on Chang's improper academic methodologies in writing this which, okay, if formulaic standards of citation matter more to you than the 52 pages of further evidence that conclude this massive indictment of the relation between the money we make and the history we remember, you're complicit. True, some involved in this were indeed judged to be war criminals, but it was a mere few months ago that the CIA Torture Report revealed war criminals of similar caliber that were swiftly exonerated. If you think all the world's myriad factions of varying brutality both illegal and not so much didn't learn a lesson from that dominating erasure, think again.
There are those who believe that the Japanese are uniquely sinister—a dangerous race of people who will never change. But after reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those who human instincts told them otherwise.
You want to talk freedom of speech? Let's talk freedom of speech and how the majority use it to constantly remind those of their rapeable, murderable, dehumanizable status and throw shit fits when some react by using it to protest said status. Let's talk about the hate crimes that have followed the freedom of speech rallies and who has been allowed to get away with terror. Just don't expect the conversation to end when #JeSuisCharlie stops trending. Your freedom of ignorance does not render you free of blood on your hands.
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books699 followers
February 8, 2017
Okay, I waited for the holiday season to be over before I put this review. The review contains information of gruesome violence and depressing images. If you want to stay in good mood, don't read it. I don't think it will change anything.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,784 reviews1,458 followers
August 5, 2014
ETA: There is much more in this book than the simple listing of atrocities committed. How came it to be that the Japanese soldiers lost all natural sense of right and wrong? Why did the world look away? Why has punishment never been allotted? What can be done to prevent this from happening again? All of these questions are addressed in the book. (Michael, I am adding this for you.)


EVERYBODY should read this book.

Yes, that means YOU.

I am annoyed:

at myself. I have had this on my shelves for ages. First my excuse was that it was too difficult to get my hands on. Then it was too expensive. Then I convinced myself that since I DO acknowledge the massacre, it really wasn't necessary to read the horrible details of it.

at those reviewers that make statements refuting the book's value. I have read the following: "the problem is that her 'history' relies almost solely on told accounts, from the Chinese." That is not true. Now if someone says that I am going to discount everything that person says. Dam, that annoyed me. Secondly, there are statements that the numbers sited are not correct. There is not one of us who can today deliver the correct figures, but the author does present different sources and different views. I agree that number can always be played with to prove whatever you wish, but there is truth to what is being said in this book and that is indisputable! Without first reading the book you cannot make any judgment of the figures used. YOU must read the book and form your own opinion.

You MUST read this book, if you know and believe in the truth of the massacre and/or if you know nothing about it. When the book came out in 1997, it was groundbreaking. Today more and more books and even a film has come out, based on the hugely inferior The Flowers of War. Without this book how long would the lies have been voiced and how long the truth hidden.

The facts are supported by documented evidence. A book such as this must be written in this manner. It is not repetitive. It is not dry. It is clear and well organized and it concludes with a strong message. Japan must acknowledge what they did in WW2 and make an official apology. They must make reparations to victims. And finally, they must from now on improve their educational material so that the truth is no longer hidden. This is the very least that must be done!

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Anna Fields. Reading such material demands a strong voice which shows respect for the subject. Anna Fields does this absolutely without fault. Nothing could be improved upon. I was horrified to hear of her death in 2006 due to a flash flood. Look, there is absolutely no legitimate reason, no valid excuse to convince yourself to not read this book. You can listen to it in your car. Don't tell me you do not have the time to read this book. Hogwash. You have the time and it is important that everybody knows as many of the details as possible about what happened. How many holocaust books have your read? I am asking you to read this one book. It is not sensationally written. It is clear and concise. I would say that the audiobook is difficult only to the extent that there are many Japanese names and these are harder to remember when one is not familiar with them, but I can listen to it a second time or I can also buy the paper book. I want to be able to repudiate false claims.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,927 followers
August 21, 2022
I thought I wouldn’t review this one, it’s such a grim and grisly subject. But then I read The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani and realised each book lit up the other one with a bright lurid light.

The Death of Truth discusses (despairs over) our current dilemma : that between contending political believers there is now no common ground, no agreed-upon facts, no objectivity to be had anywhere, leading to the grotesque spectacle of bereaved parents being told they are “crisis actors” hired to pretend a school shooter killed their kid because the school shooting was a “false flag” operation designed by the government to whip up gun control support, and never actually happened.

During and after wars bigger events than a school shooting can be suppressed. The Nazis built Belzec extermination camp in November 1941, killed between 400,000 and 600,0000 people there, then demolished the whole camp in June 1943, ploughed over the ground and planted trees. They built a farmhouse and moved some locals in and told them to tell anyone who asked that they’d been farming there for generations. Well, they nearly got away with it.

The killing of around 200,000 Chinese people during a six week period December 1937 to January 1938 in the city of Nanking by the Japanese Army was one of those events which were almost obliterated from history, even though witnesses survived and Western reporters were present. It took this book published in 1997 to put this event into many people’s minds.

In Japan this book was and is very controversial. I read on Wiki that

Associate Professor David Askew of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University said that Chang's book ignited an interest in Japan about the massacre, increasing the amount of publications about the massacre in Japan. He opined that a unified Japanese view of the massacre doesn't exist because of the internal debates and contentions surrounding the massacre, and that the different views can be categorized into mutually exclusive thought groups.

I bet Michiko Kakutani would have loved to have come up with that phrase : mutually exclusive thought groups.

So I am suggesting, and it can’t be any kind of original idea, that the establishment of agreed-upon historical and political facts can be almost impossible. Is a fact a fact if 90% agree about it and 10% disagree? What about 55/45%? All the polls say that around 60% of Americans think Oswald didn’t shoot Kennedy by himself. Does that make it true?

I think truth dies and is reborn and dies again in multiple locations simultaneously, dying and resurrecting, as the obfuscators and delusional, the paranoid and the wishful thinkers win then lose the raging arguments that billow continually through all the long centuries.

One other chilling moment from this chilling book :

The entire Japanese education system suffers from selective amnesia, for not until 1994 were Japanese schoolchildren taught that Hirohito’s army was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million Allied soldiers and Asian civilians during World War Two. In the early 1990s a newspaper article quoted a Japanese high school teacher who claimed that his students were surprised to learn that Japan had been at war with the USA. The first thing they wanted to know was who won.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,123 reviews730 followers
October 5, 2021
One of the hardest books to get through I have ever read. I want to stress that the atrocities described will stay with you (I will never forget the beheading contests) so please be warned. I believe Iris Chang paid a price for looking into this abyss of inhumanity; but I want to thank her for not allowing us to look past it.
Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews273 followers
February 11, 2017
Rape of Nanking is mainly discussing TWO injustice set of actions by Japanese officials to Nanking population (including some foreigners. This book discuss some Westerners that saved many lives, and of course regarding Nanking massacre it is unavoidable to mention International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone). The FIRST injustice is the massacre itself at late 1937-early 1938. If you don't aware about the incident, this book is an eye-opening. And you don't have to stop with this book in this internet era, at least you could check other sources regarding the incident.

The SECOND injustice is the attempts to cover-up the incident in history lessons, general people awareness, etc. In WW2 more people died in Asia-Pacific region than in European region, but less general knowledge/history known for Asia-Pacific. Until the book had published, Japanese government still don't commit to fulfill official admittance about massacre. I think this book shines because it is pointing the controversy regarding the massacre in modern era.

This book was not the first attempt refusing to forget the incident, but it was influential. The book publication timing was great, and only in few years, internet information was spreading the world, made it harder for cover-up (I started from here But I found othere reviews have their own recommendations). The domino-effect is apparent as more and more stories/biographies, movies released.

I don't think this book is overzealous in writing: the data source mentioned, and opinions admitted as opinions. I recommend to read the epilogue section, it was a good conclusion, and offer some thoughtful consideration.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,483 reviews104 followers
February 27, 2018
When we think of WWII and the atrocities that occurred, the genocide of the European Jewish population immediately comes to mind, but as the sub-title of this book indicates, there is a forgotten holocaust that has received little to no attention. Known as the Rape of Nanking, the civilian death toll (300,00 is the estimated number) exceeded that in some European countries during the entire war. Why have these horrors been basically overlooked in the history of WWII? The author divides the book into three perspectives: that of the Japanese soldiers, the Chinese who suffered through it, and the Europeans/Americans who remained in Nanking and offered protection to the Chinese civilians. Additionally, she attempts to explain the cover-up that has kept this tragedy off the radar screens of many historians and her conclusions are reasonable.

I am not going to attempt to delve into this unbelievable terror which had me asking how the Japanese could possibly have the mind set to inflict such brutality on unarmed men, women, and children. The book speaks for itself but reader beware......the author does not gloss over the details and they are difficult to absorb. She does not include them egregiously but as facts that need to be told. A very disturbing book but one that I would highly recommend. This forgotten holocaust should not be a footnote to history.
Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
174 reviews351 followers
December 29, 2020
As the leaders of the ‘Nanking International Safety Zone’ would do in the documents that they covertly sent to mainstream print outlets like Time and Reader’s digest describing the war-crimes being committed in Nanking at the time, I will preface this review with the warning:

[This] is anything but a pleasant story; in fact, it is so very unpleasant that I cannot recommend anyone without a strong stomach to read it… For it is a story of such crime and horror as to be almost unbelievable, the story of the depredations of a horde of degraded criminals of incredible bestiality, on a peaceful, kindly, law-abiding people…. I believe it has no parallel in modern history.”

Sino-Japanese relations are incredibly complex and it would be the height of arrogance for me to consider myself qualified to comment on the current state of affairs or pass judgment on either country for their actions since WWII based off this single book, so, I won’t.

What I will say is that this book will horrify and infuriate you. You’ll obviously be shocked and angered by the actions of the Japanese soldiers and the unimaginably evil way in which they tortured and killed approximately 300,000 Chinese, predominantly civilians, in the capital alone. But more than this, you’ll be supremely angered by the governments and political entities involved. The Japanese Government for fostering an environment within their military where there was no value for human life. Japanese ultra-nationalists and conservative politicians as well as historical revisionists who have since, against all verifiable testimonies and evidence, tried to cultivate the idea that the event never took place or, at the very least, has been severely overexaggerated. Who have “manage(d), nurture(d) and sustaine(d) a collective amnesia”. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) who, “eager to forge an alliance with the Japanese to gain international legitimacy”, degraded the surviving victims of the massacre further by forgiving the Japanese on a number of occasions. The U.S. government for not disclosing to the public what they new of the massacre at the time and even contributing to Japanese censorship of the truth. The list of cruelties and injustices endured by the men and women of Nanking is seemingly never-ending. Iris Chang exposes humanity at one of it’s most sickening and unforgiveable moments.

There is a single ray of hope for humanity in this book, and that is the actions of a small band of Americans and Europeans who risked their own lives to establish the ’Nanking International Safety Zone’. A zone within the city of Nanking where Chinese civilians who were not involved in the conflict could go for the relative safety offered up by the American flag but, ironically, more so by the Nazi insignia of a number of members living in the city. The individual stories of these people were heart-warming, particularly the story of the German businessman, John Rabe, who is portrayed as the Oskar Schindler of Nanking.

As I warned earlier in the review, ’The Rape of Nanking is not for the faint of heart. It is a challenging subject that I wouldn’t recommend reading if your mood is easily swayed by dark, gruesome or emotional subject matter. At the same time I think that anyone who feels up to the task should definitely read it. It is so important that we honour the victims of these injustices by not letting ourselves forget the horrors that they endured.

“To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice” - Elie Wiesel
Profile Image for stephanie.
1,103 reviews388 followers
March 13, 2012
this book is what it is - which is shoddy, shoddy history.

it is, however, excellent, excellent memory.

(ahh, see how compelling this distinction can be??)

chang is a journalist, but she doesn't seem to be one in this book, as she blindly does what she accuses the japanese of doing - which is presenting a one-sided reality.

no matter what chang said, the captions on the pictures were mislabeled. the japanese historians - by which i mean, historians focused on japan - resoundingly pointed out errors in the book. the numbers she uses are subject to debate, even the title of her book is subject to question (it's called the "massacre at nanjing" in china, and the "nanjing incident" in japan). it's sensationalistic, and based mostly on oral history - chang is not fluent in any form in japanese, therefore, all her first account materials had to be sifted through another source.

(i know because carol gluck was one of the people chang asked to help with translations/the japanese perspective. she taught my WWII seminar - told chang the captions were wrong - and chang just said okay, and thanked her in her acknowledgments - thereby trying to gain legitimacy by using one of the foremost japan scholars as "evidence" that her text isn't biased.)

but. regardless. the fact remains that people died in nanjing. the fight over numbers is emblematic of the fight between history and memory. the journal of rabe, which chang found, was supposed to shed light on the situation - but again, the question remains, if you are in the middle of a war, are you going to be a biased source? history tries to purport itself as "objective" - this is not objective in any sense.

it was ground-breaking for being the first english language book on the topic. it did bring the issue back to the forefront of national debate - much like paxton did with Vichy France. the problem is that her "history" relies almost solely on told accounts, from the chinese.

can you blame them for a bias?

still, pretty much an essential read if you want to know anything about the topic, especially if you want to know what the chinese think. (the japanese are not as reactionary as chang claims, though japan's "textbook wars" have become pretty famous in history circles.)
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews626 followers
January 14, 2020
I just read a powerful review by, Diane....and realized I never wrote a review on this book but if you don’t know the history about this story it’s definitely worth reading.
There is also a movie.

I actually saw the documentary with the author and family members before I ever read the book. It was a special one day screening with over 1000 people in the room. I was only one of a few caucasians in the room.

The history is mind boggling and leaves people with the question why was this history never taught in schools?
As Diane asks in her review.

My personal thought is that Pearl Harbor overshadowed this history because they were so close together.

This history is devastating!
Profile Image for Layla.
341 reviews385 followers
April 12, 2021
~ 4 stars ~

"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."

Trigger warnings: abuse of pregnant women, blood, elder abuse, emotional abuse, genocide, gore, incest, mass murders, mutilation, physical abuse, rape, sexual abuse, suicide, tortue, war.

This book was not an easy read, yet one that I find very important and necessary. I do recommend that everyone with the ability do so, having looked at the trigger warnings beforehand, to read this. I wrote the ones I could remeber above. As disturbing as the history may be, if we censor it, or let ourselves become ignorant or numb to it, then we are contributing to it’s erasure. I believe that it is very important to know the past, as to be able to move forward to the future in a positive way.

This book brings together the history and the atrocities committed in The Second Sino-Japanese War, more specifically, the Nanking Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking. It includes the timeline and what led to this, the crimes committed, the aftermath, and first hand accounts from 3 perspectives. The Japanese soldiers, the Chinese people, and the foriegn delegates and missionaries. It was thoroughly horrifying to hear the experiences of these people.

It also analyzes how something so terrible has gone untold or unknown, which was my favorite part of the book, as you would think something such as this would be told to all generations and would stand as a warning. It compares it to The Holocust. When you mention The Holocust, the chances are, everyone will know what that is, but on the otherhand, The Rape of Nanking is not so well known despite the numerous casualties in such a short time, and all the unfathomable things that happened. It isn’t told in our history books, and if it is, it is mentioned briefly. I know for a fact that it was not in mine.

In Japan, there is also great pushback in including this in the textbooks and even acknowledging or apologizing for what happened. There are nationlist and leading officials that think that they don’t owe China anything, that it is all just a fabrication meant to villainize them. That it never actually happened, or, on the other hand, they minimize the situation, and try to disregard the survivors and victims, even calling the women raped, legal hired prostitutes. There are Japanese that think it was a necessary act and just a part of war, with war criminals still living among society, with no or minimal consequences and repercussions. Who are quite literally revered. Germany has greatly integrated the history of the Holocust in its curriculum, taking kids to see concentration camps, making sure it is not forgotten, and to this day, they still pay reparation to the groups that were persecuted, but in Japan that is not the case.

It also mentions how a lot of the survivors were silenced, out of shame or fear of telling their stories. That the Chinese government considers it a resolved situation, when the victims were not compensated and the horrors still live on in memory.

Once again, this is a book that I do recommend. I listened to it on audiobook, and that made it a bit easier to push through. There is a lot of information, I didn’t retain all of it, but it is worth read.
Profile Image for Darya Silman.
285 reviews88 followers
August 12, 2022
A book that can rip its readers into emotional shreds.

(Note: Not suitable for people with mental health problems.)

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II fills a horrific historical blank that the Japanese and, after them, China and the Western world want to bury in silence.

For Europe, World War II started on September 1, 1939, with the invasion of Poland. For the US, it started with Pearl Harbor. However, for China, it began in 1931 with Manchuria's occupation and lasted till Japan's surrender in 1945. The Forgotten Holocaust of Nanking (Nanjing), also called The Rape of Nanking, also called The Nanking massacre, was one of the many incidents that disappeared into oblivion in the face of the more famous extermination of Jews in Europe. In a span of 6-8 weeks after the city's surrender, the Japanese soldiers and high command alike committed atrocities that resulted in approximately 300,000 deaths: killings, bayonet competitions, gang rape in broad daylight and at night (number of victims from 20,000 to 80,000), mutilations, burnings, dog-baitings, and much more. The worse part is that after China became communist, the US, whose war correspondents had condemned the massacre, allied itself with Japan and thus played a role in hushing up the story. No apologies or reparations were provided (as of 1997, when the research was published).

Iris Chang, who had heard about the Rape of Nanking from her parents since childhood, was surprised to find no mention of it in American history books. She conducted a thorough investigation to represent all participants: Chinese survivors, the Japanese military, and foreign witnesses. Though briefly, Iris Chang also dissects the reasons for the silence of 60 years. The author's premature death by suicide places her as yet another victim of the massacre; the gore details she dug out are overwhelming for a sane person.

I can't recommend it, and I strongly recommend it for reading. The author's studiousness means that the reader goes into the depths of hell that was Nanking during those 6-8 weeks. If one has mental health problems, he/she should abstain from reading The Rape of Nanking. Compared to it, Hollywood psychological and horror movies look like naive children's books.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,541 followers
August 22, 2015
This is a well-presented account of the systematic slaughter of Chinese civilians and prisoners by Japanese soldiers in 1937 and a thoughtful journalistic probing of its causes and reasons for its minimalization in the broad cultural mindset. It is painful to pursue such dark chapters in human history as a reader. Maybe it’s healthy to turn away from the details, like not looking closely if you witness a car wreck. Or to objectify such depradations, wall them off a bit as aberrations of war or a rare leakage of evil into the world. I take that path a lot, knowing in my heart that to look too closely and feeling a human impact for man’s inhumanity to man too often will end up numbing me, damaging me, making me believe our species is despicable.

Yet I’ve learned from readings on the Holocaust that there are rewards from bearing witness to the horrific experiences of the victims, a way of honoring them by not forgetting their suffering. The hope is always in the wings that a personal understanding will emerge that will allow me to digest the ”reasons” why genocidal events happen, the pathways how the perpetrators get led astray, leaving some remnants of respect and belief in the basic goodness of civilized humanity. But such hope is never really fulfilled with my readings about various genocidal events in history, and the same is true here.

Chang is thoughtful in her approach to walking the reader into the heart of darkness. She draws you in first with a lot of facts to help it sink in. The Japanese army, after months of fighting to take Shanghai with great losses, advancing on the ancient capital of Nanking (Nanjing), looking for revenge, pumped up with racist ideology, encouraged by officers to progressively more extreme acts against civilians and captured soldiers in villages along the way. Two soldiers featured in a Tokyo newspaper for their contest to be the first to kill 100 Chinese with their swords. About 50K troops encircle and bomb into submission about a half million civilians and 90K soldiers abandoned by Chang-Kai Shek’s leaders and trapped in a walled city in a bend of the Yangtze River. The incomprehensible numbers by the end: somewhere between 200 and 350,000 killed with every method imaginable over a six week period; somewhere between 20 and 80,000 women raped. Comparative perspectives on these indigestible numbers for non-combatant deaths: Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined (~210K), the firebombing of Dresden (60-225K), the bombings of Japan (80-120K).

Chang engages you with her personal purpose, that of not allowing this slaughter to be neglected in our communal consciousness. Her own grandparents barely escaped among the refugees fleeing the city before the advance of the Japanese. Few of her friends had heard of the massacre and coverage in typical history books is usually minimal. No book in English at her time of writing in 1995 was devoted to the subject. Whereas the German people had to acknowledge the guilt of the Nazis and pay reparations, but, beyond a handful of leaders prosecuted for war crimes after the war, Japan was too important as an ally in the Cold War to press for a comparable status for collective judgment. She calls this relatively blindness to the events the equivalent of a second rape of Nanking. This outlook helped me as a reader have enough courage to read on for the details on how the massacre happened and look for causes.

Her research delved into diverse archival material supplemented by interviews with a few survivors. Witnesses to public mass beheadings. Hundreds at a time lined up along trenches and machine-gunned. People burned or buried alive. Individuals buried to the waist and torn apart by dogs. Fathers forced to rape their daughters. And so on. When as a reader you begin to get numbed by such outrages, you are ready for the photo documentation in the middle of the book. The worst: a line of heads; a naked dead woman impaled through the vagina; a huge pile of bodies on the river bank. Okay, you have seared your mind and spirit. Done some kind of duty in facing the horrors. What do you do with this knowledge?

She provides support for several contributing factors to the why behind the madness. I don’t blame her that none stand out as definitive, yet a 1998 review of her book by Stanford professor David Kennedy in “The Atlantic” (The Horror) takes her to task in this regard:

But if this improbable tale reminds us of the enigmas of good and evil and the infinite mysteries of the human personality, Chang does not bring an analogous sense of complexity to her effort to explain why the Rape of Nanking happened at all. How did military discipline first degenerate into disorder and then slide into such stupefying depravity? Were Japanese actions the result of deliberate high-level policy decisions to terrorize the Chinese? Did the Imperial Japanese Army's atrocities flow from some moral defect in the Japanese national character? From willful military indoctrination that cultivated race hatred toward the Chinese? From the bent minds of crazed local commanders? From wholesale insubordination by an ill-educated and hard-used soldiery? Or did the whole history and atmosphere of the Yangtze—especially the bloody 1937 campaign from Shanghai up the valley, which culminated in the nightmarish condition of Nanjing on December 13—somehow unbridle the demons in men's souls?

Chang provides support for each of these notions, but is attacked for her lack of rigor. Yet she does acknowledge how pursuit of true understanding is like looking into a black hole and that she aims not to indict the character of the Japanese people. I like her perspective on the “thin veneer of civilization” that bounds humans from participation in such actions in the right circumstances. I also find merit in the circumstances here including the inculcation of the soldiers in the Shinto philosophy that an individual’s life only has value in service to the Emperor as God, leading to a devaluing of the lives of godless others. The Kennedy review seems a bit too harsh in criticizing her for advocacy to counter denial or cover up from some quarters and the general broad neglect of the subject in Western consciousness as equivalent to a second rape. He was fair to note that Japanese history textbooks no longer completely erase the massacre as they did in the 80’s, that despite right-wing denials persisting to this day two Japanese premiers over the years did render public statements of remorse for wrongdoing, and that significant open debate of the realities of Nanking have been ongoing in Japan.

Chang renders for the oppressed reader some significant recourse to balance her big dose on human evils. The rare example of a woman who courageously fought back and survived. The resilience of some who successfully hid or were wounded and missed in piles of bodies. A bigger story for about a fourth of the book is the efforts of a set of Western foreigners who set up a demilitarized safety zone and protected around 200,000 of city residents. She focuses on the work of a Nazi businessman of Siemens Electronics, an American doctor, and a female administrator. Wonderful stories. Chang’s most significant contribution as a journalist was to track down the daughter of the businessman, John Rabe, honored by China as the beneficent “Buddha of Nanking.” Through interviews with her and a friend and access to his journals and records, she was able to document his efforts to smuggle film of the atrocity to Hitler and a written plea to pressure Japan for policy changes. She learned how at home in Berlin, he was subjected to poor treatment from the Gestapo and a life of poverty. Chang’s attention led to the important outcome of the daughter getting his journals published.

Tragically, Chang committed suicide in 2004. It is sad to think about what contributions to this end were played by so much immersion in the dark subject of the book, the controversies and criticisms it raised, and paranoia over threats from Japanese ultranationalists.

For help in coming to terms with the Rape of Nanking and gaining a larger perspective, I highly recommend the 1986 book by John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. For insights on how to personally accommodate knowledge of human depredations against our own species, I gained much benefit from the neglected gem, A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War, by Susan Griffin. For an alternative to reading it, one can choose a briefer approach through interviews and documentaries:
BookTV Interview (1997): YouTube
Documentary: Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking (2007): YouTube

Profile Image for Andrew.
656 reviews193 followers
October 20, 2016
The Rape of Nanking is an important work of historical non-fiction written by Iris Chang. This book was instrumental in bringing greater attention in the Western world to Japanese atrocities during WWII. Chang notes the Rape of Nanking and other war time atrocities committed by the Japanese were not (at the time of writing) acknowledged widely in Japanese society, and still to this day are denied by Nationalist politicians in Japan, or dampened by apologists.

Chang's book details the Nanking (Nanjing in modern China) massacre from its beginnings. Japan declared war on China in 1937, invading Shanghai, and then moving toward Nanking, the capital city of the Republic of China. Japanese forces entered the city, and began a six week slaughter of Chinese POW's and civilians. Official death counts for those killed in the city vary widely, from 30 000-300 000+. Civilians were also abused by Chinese troops. Tens of thousands of women were raped, and many were kidnapped into sexual slavery. People were forced into humiliating acts of self-debasement. Japanese troops used live civilians as bayonet and target practice, and engaged in "killing games" where soldiers would race to see who could cut off 100 heads first.

Chang details these atrocities in the early parts of the book, and then continues on to gauge the political climate surrounding the massacre post-WWII. The Communist Chinese government had little appetite at the time to take Japan to task, and during the '90's sought to downplay the controversy to engage with the Japanese government and form trade and economic agreements. The US government began courting the Japanese immediately post-WWII. As the Soviet grasp on Eastern Europe began to extend, and China fell to CCP forces, the US sought to strengthen the only powerful Asian nation left; Japan. Finally, the Japanese government has continued to downplay its war time atrocities. It features a large shrine to soldiers killed in WWII, including many of those who participated in the slaughter, much to the chagrin of many Asian neighbours. Politicians as recently as the past few years continue to downplay or deny any atrocities occurring, most notably the former Mayor of Tokyo.

Chang also accuses the Japanese Emperor and Royal Family of being complacent in the crimes. She finds it unlikely that Emperor Hirohito did not know of the war time atrocities, especially because a royal Prince was in command of forces within the city, and was directly complacent in atrocities.

Chang's book is a mixed bag for me. I acknowledge the historical importance of this book, and make no mistake, it is an important and shocking read. The rape of thousands of women, mutilation and execution of innocent civilians, and the systemic brutality of sanctioned Japanese military atrocities is chronicled in detail, using first hand accounts, anecdotal stories and some source material. However, Chang (or the publishers of this book) did a poor job linking these sources to in text information. Some of the sources are not even properly sourced, and will say "from this well known author..." or "from this letter..." without directly referencing the material at all. Sometimes titles of books or any identifying information on documents is completely absent.

Chang was very passionate about this subject, and this clearly shows in the book. It is well laid out, and Chang did a wonderful job grappling with such difficult material (the folio pictures in this publication are particularly brutal). Even so, that passion does not mesh well with such poor sourcing. It makes the book slightly difficult to believe, in some instances, and this is all the more frustrating due to the still controversial nature of the topic of the Rape of Nanking and Japanese war atrocities in general. Only recently, for example, did the Japanese government apologize for its war time role (2015, by PM Shinzo Abe). However, the importance of this book should be noted. It was one of the first books on the subject to be widely published in the Western world, and brought attention to Japan's war time actions.

All things considered, this is a highly important book with a deeply flawed sourcing system. It is an important and shocking read, and is easily recommended to anyone who wishes to study WWII history. Even so, the frustrating sourcing makes it but an introduction to the topic (albeit, a good one), and one should look further and deeper into the subject to receive a better understanding of one of modern histories most despicable atrocities .
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,605 reviews2,309 followers
October 7, 2021
The Rape of Nanking
by Iris Chang
If you read this book and don't feel anything, you are truly heartless. This is a very hard book to read but it needs to be read! People need to know! How can people do this to others? Chang addressed this a bit when she talks about how the Japanese soldiers themselves were treated in their own army. Like they were less than dirt. They were slapped and beat constantly for no reason. So when they had a chance to release their bent up rage on someone they thought was inferior to them, they had no problem doing so.
This is a horrific book but a necessary book. Apparently the author felt the anguish with every person she interviewed. She killed herself in 2004 because she was so depressed. She took all her books to heart and really lived them. 😑
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
November 13, 2015
I am by no means an expert on WWII or history in general. I find it interesting and fascinating, and am interested in WWII stories more than many other eras, simply because it was just such an active point in our (relatively) recent history, and there was just so much horrific shit going on. But despite my interest in this era, I'd never even heard of this little corner of depravity and horror. Never heard of the Nanking Massacre in school, never stumbled across it in any form during my three decades of reading, until my Goodreads friend Heather read it. So I ended up buying this from Audible, and it's been on my To-Get-To-One-Day mental list for several years, and now I've read it, and... Shit.

It's brutal. It's horrifying. And what makes it so insanely atrocious is that so much of the brutality and depravity that occurred in Nanking and is related in this book was done in such up-close-and-personal ways. Yes, there were also instances of people being rounded up and killed en masse - but much of it was personal, one on one torture and mutilation and repeated rape. And rape. And rape. So many rapes. Disfiguring, body-ruining, disease-spreading, gang-style, horrific and unrelenting rapes of any and every woman that could be found, from small children to elderly women. There are stories of fathers being forced to rape their own daughters, and of sons being forced to rape their own mothers, and of young girls being tied to chairs and raped so repeatedly and brutally that their bodies just gave out. And so much more.

It's heartbreaking and cruel, and the way that it has just kind of slipped under the radar of history is disturbing in and of itself. The culture of shame for these women who were so horrifically treated and yet managed to survive it is unbelievable to me. They were victimized, and yet their cultural upbringing dictated that they remain silent and keep the appearance of purity - as though they were somehow responsible or should be held accountable for the things that they had to endure. It just boggles my mind. I understand it was a different time, and a different culture, but I just can't understand victim-blaming or shaming, especially not when it was on such a huge scale. But that's how it was, and for more than 50 years, most kept their silence. What a horrible existence that must have been, to have lived through such an ordeal and not even be able to talk about it. I can't even imagine.

This book attempts to explain the Japanese mindset that allowed this kind of thing to happen, and while I can't find it in me to ever condone this kind of depravity and cruelty, I think that the explanation given makes a lot of sense. These men were raised in a strict culture of propaganda and abuse and degradation from the time that they were young until they were soldiers, and then beyond. So of course, as soon as they encounter the "enemy" and have any authority or power over them, they will use it to vent their anger and hatred on them. But this... it was just inhuman.

Of course, this sort of thing is still going on. Do a Google search for "human atrocities 2015" or just watch the news. It makes me so sad. You'd think that we'd learn from history... instead we just keep repeating it.

Ugh. This review can in no way do the book justice, and there's so much that I just can't include - like the foreigner who risked their lives to set up a safe zone to help protect as many people as possible, or a detailed accounting of the Japanese culture and political situation that led to this massacre, and the way it dealt with it afterward.

There's so much information in this book that it's one that has to be read for oneself. It is not an easy read, but it's the kind of thing that should be required reading, in my opinion.
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