The Rape of Nanking
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 31 Jul 2012
Full Title: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
The six or so weeks after the conquest of Nanjing (Postal Map Romanization: Nanking), the capital city of China underwent one of the worst massacres in modern history. Conservative estimates had the death toll at 50,000, and higher estimates go beyond 300,000, making this potentially the single most deadly event involving civilian deaths in WW2, possibly on par or exceeding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many called this event the Nanjing Massacre, but others thought the word "massacre" inadequate in describing the manner that the Chinese civilians were tortured and murdered. Among the sufferings include being nailed to telephone poles, being buried alive, being delimbed, being disemboweled, being castrated. Perhaps the worst were the over 20,000 cases of rape, with the victims being as young as 10 years of age and as old as 80 years of age. Thus born the name the Rape of Nanjing, a gruesome tragedy that epitomized the harsh Japanese treatment of the residents of the occupied regions of China between 1931 and 1945.
I probably would not need to introduce Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking, it being a rather well-known title and one of the first major books on this topic. The late Chang had achieved her goals well, creating an emotional narration of the massacre to raise awareness and stir conversations so that this event would not be forgotten in the western world. Drawing her material from the diaries of witnesses, interviews, historical documents, and previously published works on this topic, she vividly recreated the horrifying atmosphere that Nanjing experienced from mid-Dec 1937 through Feb 1938. She also told of the brave foreigners in the city who selflessly interfered, of the victims who survived, of the Cold War's effect on this event, and of Japan's attempts to whitewash history. Stepping back, however, I could clearly see her training as a journalist rather than a historian. While she did a great job in presenting the hell that was Nanjing and the injustice of this event being so unknown in the United States, I could tell that she was doing so with a splash of sensationalism and speculation. While the primary and secondary accounts she dug up were effective, the historical background that she presented to tie the stories together were occasionally incorrect. For example, Chang kept referring to Germany as an ally of Japan, but actually the Tripartite Pact was not signed until 1940; in fact, in 1937, the German Army had resident liaison officers such as Alexander von Falkenhausen working directly within the Chinese Army. While her book did a good job raising awareness of the atrocities, carelessly mistakes such as this, and several others, ate away at my confidence in her research. That said, while she offered helpful analysis of the Rape of Nanjing toward the end of the book, I could unfortunately only treat it with a limited degree of seriousness.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book form. Anna Fields read very clearly, which appreciated a lot especially considering that I generally listen to audio books on my commute to and from work. The only complaint was with her poor pronunciation of some of the Chinese names and places, which seemed to suggest that she did not perform her due diligence before embarking on this project.
If you have not yet read The Rape of Nanking, I would recommend you to do, just keep in mind Chang's motivation behind the book.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939