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A Tragedy compiled by Si Mi Au 19/11/2004
Orville Schell, in the New York Times Book Review, called ‘The Rape of Nanking’ an important new book and commented that Iris Chang ‘recounts the grisly massacre with understandable outrage’.
‘The Rape of Nanking’ is about the massacre of Chinese by Japanese before World War II. As Iris Chang was fascinated by her parents’ stories about how they escaped the desolation of Nanking, this prompted her writing an account on it. She has succeeded in making this book recognised as a classic of ‘investigative journalism’ and reference in history class. But such has, in return, obtained by her at a cost.
What is a historian?
He/she is someone who writes about the past in a certain way, who produces and checks records, who acknowledges the work of other historians and who writes with a discernible accuracy and vigour. How can Iris Chang acknowledge other historians while the 1937 massacre was rarely mentioned as a historical event in book, it just ‘disappeared into a black hole of oblivion in the memory of the rest of the world’.
As a journalist and or a historian, it is ultimately important to present information that is believed to be of importance to the public. Mr. Stephen Ambrose had described Iris Chang as ‘the best young historian so far because ‘she understands that to communicate history, one has to tell the story in an interesting way’.
The world mourns over her death – why an accomplished person like her could have reached a point of no return. Why she pushed herself so hard? Is it that she tried to help those with stories of suffering that drove her so sad that she could not go on with the project – to seek reparations from Japan for World War II atrocities?
Iris Chang was known to be very passionate in her work – the passion may have gone at times, to the point that she might have internalised things from her interviews with survivors. Being a historian, she has to dig historical facts through intermediary sources – testimony from living witnesses; narrative records, letters and literature and so on.
The relation between evidence and fact is rarely simple and direct, so historians have to assess their evidence with a critical eye. Adelle Suslick, a high school teacher commented Chang as one having ‘an innate talent for argumentation and could nail a claim with compelling evidence’.
end of the day, Chang wanted to be remembered as the person she was before
she became ill and that is ‘engaged
with life committed to her causes, her writing and her family’
Chang’s charge that the Japanese have committed a second rape by suppressing and even denying what happened in Nanjing. No matter whether one agrees and demands that the way for Japan to heal the wounds of ‘the Rape of Nanking’ is to confess and apologise, to pay reparations to the survivors and to teach future generations of Japanese about the evils it committed, or gets reserved in the scale and brutality of the massacre described by Chang, or agrees with David Kennedy, Stanford University historian, that Chang’s reliance of the historical facts of the horrors of Nanjing on ‘accusation and outrage, not analysis and understanding’, let us understand what was Japan at that time.
Why Japan the aggressor in the war at that era?
Japan had self segregated from the wider world and made it backward and defenceless against the guns of the most advanced western European powers. An American expedition sent to Japan in 1849 forced Japan to open a limited number of ports to foreign shipping. Japan was compelled to sign the treaties with the Western powers in the 1850s and 1860s. These unequal treaties imposed extra-territoriality on Japan, making its foreign residents subject only to the legal jurisdiction of their home nations’ consular courts. Adding injury to insult, the treaties established low tariff rates, restricting an important source of revenue for the Japanese government.
Starting from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Japan forced the Chinese to grant them special privileges and economically it penetrated China’s ports and internal cities. Japan took control of Chinese territory upon the Manchurian Incident of September 1931. Then it marked a new beginning of Japanese military aggression on the Asian continent.
In 1932 Manchuria was proclaimed the independent state of Manchukuo – ‘Country of the Manchus’ with Pu Yi, the ‘last emperor’ of China, installed as its ruler.
Ian Buruma, an author, in his book ‘Inventing Japan 1853-1964’, said that ‘the exact figure of Chinese death in the massacre should not be the main issue. What needs to be explained is the peculiar ferocity of the assault on a defenceless population.’ In his words, ‘what was the reason for this extraordinary frenzy of rape, murder and pillage, if not to exterminate every last Chinese?’ Probable answers have been put forward, for instance
Why the doers of Nanking Massacre have to be put on trial?
It should be noted that there is a contrasting figure of death in the Nanking Massacre. In China, the Nanking memorial to the massacre and official histories speak of 300,000; in Taiwan, many Nationalist historians use a similar figure. Western histories of the war gave no definite estimate. Hata Ikuhiko, one of Japan’s leading historians of the war in China, mentioned that the illegal murders number as 38,000 – 42,000. ‘History of the Nanking Battle’ by Nankin Senshi Henshu Iinkai gave no number of Chinese killed at Nanking which according to Cook, indicated their willingness to leave the question open is evidence of how little they (who are involved) are willing to acknowledge responsibility for what happened in that war.
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