Review: The Rape of Nanking

Iris Chang (1997)

This chronicle of Japan’s decimation of the Chinese city and its inhabitants during WWII is every bit as disturbing and difficult to read as you might imagine. The atrocities committed and the horrors witnessed rival the worst that mankind has to offer, including the Holocaust. In that context, it’s interesting to read how post-WWII relations with Japan led to this epic, bloody period of history being buried and nearly forgotten by the world, until Iris Chang published this landmark work in 1997.

The author provides historical context for the Japanese-Chinese conflict, including possible explanations as to how such brutal and despicable acts could have been committed in the course of war. Interviews and journals from first-person witnesses bring a human face to the suffering when the presentation threatens to overwhelm you with nearly incomprehensible facts and figures. These include the stories of a group of Westerners who risk everything to provide a safe zone that ultimately saved the lives of nearly 300,000 Chinese. What’s most astounding is the amazing difference between the post-war treatment of Germany (a country still atoning for its sins of the Holocaust) and Japan (a Cold War ally which for years towed the official line of denying that the Rape of Nanking ever took place.)

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