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Rape of Nanking


THE RAPE OF NANKING: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

by Iris Chang

Penguin Books 1998

reviewed by Kenneth Lyen

Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking is an important historical account of the massacre of Nanjing civilians in 1937 by the invading Japanese army. It is well-researched and extremely readable. This massacre is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Holocaust because some 300,000 civilians of Nanjing were brutally murdered, and up to 80,000 women were raped during a period of seven weeks. The subject matter is absolutely compelling, but at times the brutalities described, together with horrific photographs, is so sad that reading becomes almost unbearable.

War brings out the best and the worst in one. Soldiers are so desensitised to killings and torture that they inflict the most hideous barbarities on their defenceless victims. No sane person would ever contemplate such cruel behaviour, but war engenders a state of temporary insanity. The Japanese soldiers in Nanjing disembowelled their victims while still alive, tossed babies in the air like a football and stabbed them with their bayonets. There are photographs taken by the Japanese recording decapitated civilians, and one which displayed a severed head with a cigarette butt inserted between the lips as a joke. Although military policy forbade rape, it carried on rampantly. Even girls as young as 8 years old and elderly women in their 70s were raped and beaten up. Usually the raped victims were killed "because dead bodies don’t talk." Iris Chang’s writing is factual, but the facts are so gruesome that I could feel the victims’ intense sufferings and could not stop crying.

This period of history has largely been neglected and forgotten. Indeed many prominent Japanese, including a cabinet minister have denied that it ever occurred. Quite recently, the Japanese have rewritten their children’s history books glossing over their involvement in the second world war.

We do not wish to blame the Japanese. Brutalities have been perpetrated by nearly every nation, every race, and by every religious group throughout the history of mankind. However, such deeds should never be forgotten. "The wise forgive but do not forget." It is only by recognising their existence that we might form a collective conscience that will help future generations avoid repeating such atrocities.

Hence Iris Chang’s book of crimes against humanity that occurred in Nanjing is too important to be neglected. I recommend it wholeheartedly.