The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
  • Title: The Rape of Nanking
  • Subtitle: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
  • Author(s): Iris Chang
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Year: 2014-03-11
  • ISBN-10: 046502825X
  • ISBN-13: 9780465028252


The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” by Iris Chang is a groundbreaking historical account that sheds light on one of the most brutal and overlooked atrocities of the 20th century. In this meticulously researched book, Chang documents the horrific events that unfolded during the Japanese invasion of Nanking (now Nanjing) in 1937.

Drawing from a wealth of primary sources, including diaries, testimonies, and official documents, Chang paints a vivid and harrowing picture of the mass rape, murder, and destruction that plagued the city for six weeks. She reveals how Japanese soldiers engaged in systematic killings, sexual violence, and looting, leaving an estimated 300,000 Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers dead.

Through Chang’s meticulous research and powerful storytelling, she not only exposes the atrocities committed during the Nanking Massacre but also delves into the denial and silence that surrounded it for decades. The author confronts the efforts made by both the Japanese government and Western powers to downplay or dismiss these horrific events, emphasizing the importance of historical awareness and accountability.

The Rape of Nanking” is a haunting and vital book that serves as a poignant reminder of the humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Chang’s detailed examination of this forgotten Holocaust not only honors the victims and survivors but also serves as a call to action for acknowledging and learning from such dark chapters in history. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in World War II history, human rights, and the ongoing quest for justice and remembrance.


Book Review

'The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II' - A Haunting Chronicle of Inhumanity and the Quest for Justice

Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” is an extraordinary and immensely powerful historical account that unearths one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century. In this meticulously researched book, Chang presents a deeply harrowing narrative of the Japanese invasion of Nanking in 1937, exposing the unimaginable atrocities committed against the Chinese people.

Chang’s dedication to her research is apparent in the wealth of primary sources she draws upon, including diaries, firsthand testimonies, and official documented evidence. Through these sources, she constructs a vivid and heart-wrenching depiction of the mass murder, rape, and destruction that engulfed the city for six agonizing weeks. With meticulous attention to detail, she breaks down the events into specific instances, from the systematic executions of civilians and disarmed soldiers to the horrifying acts of sexual violence inflicted upon women and children.

One of the book’s strengths lies in Chang’s ability to confront the long-standing silence and denial that surrounded the Nanking Massacre. She exposes how the Japanese government, complicit in its actions, sought to downplay or cover up the extent of the atrocities. Furthermore, Chang reveals the role of Western powers in whitewashing these events, which contributed to the suppression of historical awareness and the lack of justice for the victims. She highlights how the collective silence has perpetuated the suffering of the survivors and their descendants.

Chang also delves into the psychological scars left by the Nanking Massacre, both on individual survivors and on the national psyche of China. She explores the courage and resilience of those who dared speak out about their experiences, seeking justice and recognition. Chang’s narrative illuminates the ongoing struggle for remembrance, offering powerful accounts of individuals such as the Chinese-American missionary Minnie Vautrin and German businessman John Rabe, who risked their lives to protect and aid the Chinese civilians during the invasion.

Throughout the book, Chang’s prose is engaging and compassionate, underscoring the immense human toll of the atrocities. She skillfully interweaves personal stories with historical analysis, creating a deeply emotional connection between the reader and the victims. One particularly poignant example is her retelling of the story of the “good Japanese soldier” Matsui Iwane, who initially opposed the invasion but ultimately became complicit in the violence. Chang’s exploration of this complexity challenges the reader to grapple with the moral ambiguities inherent in war.

The Rape of Nanking” serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of forgetting or denying history. Chang passionately argues for the importance of educating future generations about the Nanking Massacre, as well as other similar atrocities, to prevent such horrors from occurring again. However, it is worth noting that the intensity and graphic nature of the accounts presented may be distressing for some readers, and discretion is advised.

In conclusion, “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” is a seminal work that brings an often-overlooked chapter of history to the forefront. Iris Chang’s meticulous research and powerful storytelling create a deeply haunting and unforgettable reading experience. This book is not only a tribute to the victims and survivors of the Nanking Massacre but also a plea for justice, remembrance, and the acknowledgment of our shared humanity. It is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the profound consequences of war and the enduring quest for truth and reconciliation.

Word Count: 604

The outside world, largely desensitized to the suffering of Asia, was turning a deaf ear to the horrors.

Key Ideas

In “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” Iris Chang explores several key ideas that are crucial to understanding the Nanking Massacre and its broader historical and societal implications. These ideas include:

  1. Exposing the forgotten Holocaust Chang brings to light the atrocities committed during the Nanking Massacre, emphasizing the need to remember and acknowledge this forgotten chapter of history. By meticulously researching and presenting evidence, she counters the long-held denial and silence surrounding the massacre, seeking justice and recognition for the victims.

  2. Human capacity for cruelty Chang confronts the horrifying acts of violence, rape, and murder that were perpetrated against the Chinese population by the invading Japanese soldiers. She invites readers to confront the dark side of human nature and grapple with the profound depths of cruelty that individuals are capable of during times of war. Through vivid descriptions and personal accounts, Chang challenges readers to understand the human toll of such acts.

  3. The role of denial and silence Chang highlights how both the Japanese government and Western powers participated in downplaying or dismissing the Nanking Massacre. She uncovers a systemic effort to suppress historical awareness, contributing to the perpetuation of suffering for survivors and the lack of justice for the victims. Chang emphasizes the importance of speaking out against denial and the responsibilities of governments and individuals to confront historical truths.

  4. Individual acts of courage and compassion Chang recognizes and highlights the stories of individuals who risked their lives to protect and aid the Chinese civilians during the invasion. Through the accounts of individuals like Minnie Vautrin and John Rabe, Chang showcases the bravery and compassion that can emerge even in the darkest of times. These stories serve as a counterpoint to the overwhelming violence and illustrate the power of individual actions in the face of mass atrocities.

  5. The ongoing struggle for remembrance Chang underscores the ongoing struggle for remembrance and justice for the victims of the Nanking Massacre. She emphasizes the importance of education and creating awareness, both to honor those affected by the tragedy and to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in the future. Chang’s work serves as a call to action, urging readers to confront historical silences and actively engage in the collective memory of past injustices.

These key ideas resonate throughout “The Rape of Nanking,” challenging readers to confront the horrors of war, consider the consequences of forgetting history, and recognize the universal responsibility to promote justice, remembrance, and reconciliation.


Target Audience

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” by Iris Chang is targeted at a diverse audience interested in history, human rights, and World War II. The book is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • History Enthusiasts The book offers a meticulous and deeply researched account of a lesser-known atrocity of World War II, appealing to readers with a passion for understanding historical events in detail. Chang’s thorough examination of primary sources and her ability to bring the past to life make this book a valuable resource for those interested in this specific period of history.

  • Human Rights Advocates Chang’s work sheds light on the importance of acknowledging and confronting human rights abuses. The book appeals to individuals passionate about human rights, social justice, and the need to remember and prevent atrocities. Through the lens of the Nanking Massacre, readers gain a deeper understanding of the profound impacts of war on civilian populations and the ongoing struggle for justice and remembrance.

  • Students and Educators “The Rape of Nanking” is highly recommended for students and educators studying World War II, Asian history, and human rights. The vivid storytelling, wealth of primary sources, and comprehensive research make it an excellent resource for classroom discussions, research projects, and gaining a deeper understanding of the complexities of wartime atrocities.

  • General Readers While the subject matter is undeniably difficult, Chang’s powerful storytelling and ability to connect with the emotions and experiences of the victims make “The Rape of Nanking” accessible to a wide audience. The book engages readers who are interested in understanding the human capacity for cruelty, the consequences of war, and the importance of confronting historical truths.

In conclusion, “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” is recommended reading for those interested in the historical significance of World War II, the human experience during times of conflict, and the ongoing struggle for justice and remembrance. It appeals to history enthusiasts, human rights advocates, students, educators, and general readers seeking to gain a deeper understanding of this overlooked chapter of history and its broader implications. Chang’s powerful narrative serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of confronting the past and learning from it to create a better future.

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