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The Rape of Nanking

The Rape of Nanking

4.1 88
by Iris Chang, William C. Kirby (Foreword by)

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In December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered—a death toll exceeding that of the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written


In December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered—a death toll exceeding that of the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written what will surely be the definitive history of this horrifying episode. The Rape of Nanking tells the story from three perspectives: of the Japanese soldiers who performed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city and were able to create a safety zone that saved almost 300,000 Chinese. Among these was the Nazi John Rabe, an unlikely hero whom Chang calls the "Oskar Schindler of China" and who worked tirelessly to protect the innocent and publicize the horror. More than just narrating the details of an orgy of violence, The Rape of Nanking analyzes the militaristic culture that fostered in the Japanese soldiers a total disregard for human life. Finally, it tells the appalling story: about how the advent of the Cold War led to a concerted effort on the part of the West and even the Chinese to stifle open discussion of this atrocity. Indeed, Chang characterizes this conspiracy of silence, that persists to this day, as "a second rape."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A compelling, agonizing chronicle.
Chicago Tribune
A powerful new work of history and moral inquiry. Chang takes great care to establish an accurate accounting of the dimensions of the violence.
Baltimore Sun
Stomach-turning, tear-wrenching, thoroughly riveting.
New York Times Book Review
In her important new book, The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang, whose own grandparents were survivors, recounts the grisly massacre with understandable outrage.
Orville Schell
Audio File
Fields keeps her narrative from overreaction, using a finely tuned ear for inflection to emphasize the worst horrors. ... Her intelligent performance makes this a remarkable and compelling experience.
Adam Hochschild
Colonial Williamsburg, the meticulous restoration of a Virginia village of several centuries ago, was built in the 1930s. For several decades, tens of millions of tourists enjoyed the spinning wheels, the working blacksmith's and cobbler's shops, the guides in period costumes. But it was not until after 1970 that a visitor could easily learn a crucial fact: Half the population of the original Williamsburg were slaves. Today you can see slave quarters and other exhibits showing what the daily life of slaves was like.

Some horrendous outbursts of cruelty, like slavery, endure for centuries; some are over in a few hours or weeks. But all of them raise two questions. First, what makes human beings capable of mass savagery? Second, what makes great acts of violence remembered or forgotten -- or, as in Williamsburg, officially forgotten for a long time and then abruptly remembered?

Both questions are raised by Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking. The 29-year-old Chang published the book in late 1997, then unexpectedly saw it give birth to a storm of praise, denunciations and controversy that still continues. A paperback edition of the book has just appeared.

In brief, the book is the story of the almost unbelievable orgy of violence unleashed over several months by the Japanese army after it occupied Nanking, the capital of Nationalist China, in December 1937. There is dispute about the death toll, but most serious scholars place it in the hundreds of thousands. Chinese men were forced at gunpoint to rape their mothers and daughters. Japanese soldiers gang-raped women by the tens of thousands. They nailed women to trees. They drove stakes through their vaginas. They bound the hands of Chinese men, lined them up in long rows, and machine-gunned them into huge burial ditches. They bayoneted babies in front of their mothers. They buried people alive. Soldiers had "killing contests" and boasted to Japanese reporters of their scores. Some of the carnage was recorded on film. An American missionary (the United States was not yet at war with Japan) took movies, and a colleague smuggled the footage out of the country sewn in his coat lining. Japanese soldiers took still photos, then brought their film for developing to Chinese photo shops where horrified employees, at great risk, surreptitiously made extra prints.

Chang vividly, methodically, records what happened, piecing together the abundant eyewitness reports into an undeniable tapestry of horror. Driven mainly by an understandable outrage, she does not do such a good job of analyzing why the Japanese acted with such extraordinary sadism -- not just in Nanking, incidentally, but in so many other places they conquered as well. Although, in fairness, perhaps not even the greatest of philosophers can fully explain the gas chambers at Auschwitz or the spectacle of a Japanese soldier tying a man to a tree and using him for bayonet practice, while other soldiers watch, laugh and take pictures.

The Nanking atrocities were well publicized throughout the world at the time, and are usually mentioned in the standard Western histories of World War II. But along with wartime Japan's other vast, wanton sprees of murder, rape and looting, it has drawn far less attention in recent years than the Holocaust, Stalin's gulag and other mass murders of our day. The Rape of Nanking is the first book on the subject in English in more than 50 years. Many Japanese still deny that so much blood was shed. Six conservative historians held a Tokyo press conference to denounce Chang, and the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Kunihiko Saito, criticized the book as "full of errors, biased and a one-sided view." Imagine the uproar if a German ambassador had denounced Schindler's List as "one-sided."

The most unexpected part of Chang's story, and the reaction to it, has to do with the curious politics of memory and forgetting. In contrast to the extensive war crimes trials in Europe, begun by the Allies and later continued by the Germans themselves, trials in Japan were few and finished very quickly. Confiscated Japanese military records, a potential gold mine of information for war crimes and much else, were returned to Japan by the United States in the 1950s without even being fully copied. The U.S. saw the economic powerhouse of Japan as its key anti-Communist ally in Asia, and, throughout the Cold War, made no effort to force Japan to come to terms with its actions during World War II.

Furthermore, both Nationalist and Communist China, competing for Japanese trade and favor, have been reluctant to press the issue of Nanking and war crimes. Japan is the largest aid donor in the world. Most of that aid goes to Asia; Japan has loaned Beijing many billions of dollars on favorable terms. Although the memory of the rape of Nanking remains very much alive in the city (today known as Nanjing), it was not until 1985 that the government permitted a museum of the atrocities to be built there, and it has repeatedly prohibited demonstrations against visiting Japanese.

Not only did Chang's book become a bestseller, it has been the inspiration for several conferences, a TV documentary, a museum now on the drawing boards in Los Angeles and a planned Hollywood film. If she had written it 20 or 30 years ago, most likely none of this would have happened. What made the difference? Two things above all: the end of the Cold War, and the rising influence, and number, of Americans of Chinese descent. Many of them, like Iris Chang, grew up hearing the stories of events like Nanking, and want to see that history on paper at last.

Publicly remembering painful parts of the past is always a political act, and almost always takes place against enormous obstacles. Those obstacles do not just concern distant places like China and Japan. If Rosa Parks had not sat down in the front of the bus, if Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of others had not marched and endured beatings and jail, Colonial Williamsburg would still display no slave quarters today.

Iris Chang
Denial is an integral part of atrocity, and it's a natural part after a society has committed genocide. First you kill, and then the memory of killing is killed....I want the Japanese people to know the truth....I want them to know a side of history that isn't properly taught in school. Like it or not, this is a part of their history.
The New York Times
[An] unflinching re-examination of one of the most horrifying chapters of the Second World War.
Library Journal
Even though the Japanese government still refuses to acknowledge the massacre of at least 250,000 Chinese civilians by invading Japanese troops in 1937, freelance writer Chang (the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Associated Press) has exposed in detail the full, terrible account of what happened to the war-torn capital of Nanking. Chang, whose grandparents survived the brutality, first establishes Japan's social hierarchy by martial competition, then shows how the city of Nanking fell, the six weeks of horror following, and the Nanking safety zone created by Americans and Europeans. The book goes on to depict the city's occupation, the judgment day for Japanese war criminals, the cover-up perpetrated by Japanese textbooks, and Japan's self-imposed censorship. -- Steven Lin, American Samoa Community College Library
School Library Journal
The events in this book are horribly off-putting, which, paradoxically, is why they must be remembered. Chang tells of the Sino-Japanese War atrocities perpetrated by the invading Japanese army in Nanking in December 1937, in which roughly 350,000 soldiers and civilians were slaughtered in an eight-week period, many of them having been raped and/or tortured first. Not only are readers given many of the gory details with pictures but they are also told of the heroism of some members of a small foreign contingent, particularly of a Nazi businessman who resided in China for 30 years.

The story of his bravery lends the ironic touch of someone with evil credentials doing good. Once the author finishes with the atrocities, she proceeds with the equally absorbing and much easier-to-take story of what happened to the Nazi businessman when he returned to Germany and the war ended....The author tells why the Japanese government not only allowed the atrocities to occur but also refused, and continues to refuse, to acknowledge that they happened. She is quite evenhanded in reminding readers that every culture has some episode like this in its history; what makes this one important is the number of people killed and tortured, the sadism, and the ongoing Japanese denial of responsibility. Mature readers will look beyond the sensational acts of cruelty to ponder the horror of man's inhumanity to man and the examples of heroism in the midst of savagery. -- Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, Viriginia

Orville Schell
Iris Chang, whose own gransparents were survivors, recounts the grisly massacre with understandable outrage.
The New York Times Book Review
Jacob Heilbrunn
Iris Chang offers the first comprehensive examination of the destruction of this Chinese imperial city...Ms. Chang has skillfully excavated from oblivion the terrible events that took place during the Sino-Japanese War that preceded World War II itself.
The Wall Street Journal

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Richard Rhodes
A powerful, landmark book, riveting in its horror, exposing the mass killing perpetrated by the Japanese army on the people of Nanking in the early years of the Second World War.
— Author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Ross Terrill
Iris Chang takes the reader on an adventure into a shocking niche of contemporary history. The events in Nanking 60 years ago were a low point in a fratricidal war -- a macabre overture to a war that eventually killed 19 million Chinese. Anyone interested in the relation between war, self-righteousness, and the human spirit will find The Rape of Nanking of fundamental importance. It is also an exciting investigation and a work of passion.
— Author of Mao: China in Our Time
Nien Cheng
Iris Chang has produced a gripping account of a dark historical moment, one that holds the reader's attention from beginning to end. Her meticulously researched book is not only an important contribution to the study of Japan's war to subjugate China, but also a moving account that pays fitting tribute to the Americans and Europeans living in Nanking who risked their lives to rescue the Chinese people from rape and extermination.
— Author of Life and Death in Shanghai
George F. Will
The rape of Nanking by the Japanese army was perhaps the most appalling single episode of barbarism in a century replete with horrors. Yet it had been largely forgotten until Iris Chang made it her subject.... Because of Chang's book, the second rape of Nanking is ending.
From the Publisher

"The first comprehensive examination of the destruction of this Chinese imperial city...Ms. Chang, whose grandparents narrowly escaped the carnage, has skillfully excavated from oblivion the terrible events that took place." —The Wall Street Journal

"A powerful new work of history and moral inquiry. Chang takes great care to establish an accurate accounting of the dimensions of the violence." —Chicago Tribune

"Chang reminds us that however blinding the atrocities in Nanking may be, they are not forgettable—at least not without peril to civilization itself." —The Detroit News

"A story that Chang recovers with raw urgency...an important step towards recognition of this tragedy." —San Francisco Bay Guardian

Meet the Author

Iris Chang’s numerous honors include the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation’s Program on Peace and International Cooperation Award. Her work has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times. She is also the author of the bestselling The Rape of Nanking, available from Penguin.

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The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 88 reviews.
Zor-El More than 1 year ago
I have become more stingy in how I rate books. 3 Stars is a good book and 4 better than average. To get a 5 Star rating a book has to have exceeded all expectations. "The Rape Of Nanking" does that. I was aware of the Rape of Nanking but did not realize the scope of this incredibly horrible event in history. Iris Chang did a wonderful job in bringing it to light. Perhaps one of the strongest parts of this book were a few of the people who risked their lives to save others. Hollywood is missing a best picture winner if someone doesn't make a movie about John Rabe (a nazi no less!) or Minnie Vautrin among others. While I highly recommend this book I must also warn any potential readers that this book is highly disturbing. You will likely find yourself fluctuating between being incredibly saddened and very enraged. If you know little or nothing about this event please do yourself a favor and pick up this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Iris Changs book, The Rape of Nanking, was very informative and she displays her research accordingly. It can be easily unerstood, but it also goes into great detail. As stated before, this book I would definently not recommend for the younger adults, or anyone who does have a weak stomach. She goes into great detail about the different tactics used to abuse or molest the Chinese citizens of not only Nanking, but all of China. They showed no mercy. No matter what the age, the abusive tortures were all the same. As for the history, she displays it very well, being it is from three different perspectives; The Japanese soldiers, the Chinese, and Westerners. She doesn't display any biased opinion throughout her book, other than those of the three perspectives. As the book progresses, she tells the perspectives of each group, the Japanese being the first, the chinese being second, and westerners being last. Overall, it was a very moving and informative book. It gives you an idea on what was valued to each ethnic group, whether it be money, tradition, or connection with the outside world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My impression of this book was that it was very factual, however gory it was. It was a disturbingly detailed account of the Rape of Nanking. I had never heard about this event, as most people haven't, and it was shocking to learn about such a frightening genocide. I felt as if this event had been completely under-publicized. I liked this book, because it not only told you of the events, but it was written with a passionate purpose. The author was upset that there had not been any kind of retribution to the Japaneese for their acts or repentance from them. Since there aren't many accounts of information available to the public about this event, i believe Iris Chang wrote this for all it's victims. She wanted the public to know about this event, because she felt it had been kept under the radar. (Which is a very innapropriate place for so brutal an event.) I believed the author did a wonderful job completing her purpose. Becasue she wrote this book, the rape of Nanking has been brought to light to more than people than before. I would definitely recommend this book to someone that has not heard of the rape of Nanking becasue it is an event that deserves to be heard.
L.A.Carlson-writer More than 1 year ago
I began familiar with Iris Chang after reading about her through The Writer's Almanac. If you love history you will instantly become entranced in the story of how the Japanese invaded NanKing. But you will become horrified at how this group of soldiers took liberties with the men, women and children of NanKing, China. Chang is an excellent writer who tells the story from several perspectives and it's amazing the Japanese were able to get away with what they did. It is a story much like Nazi Germany and their torture of Jews except on a smaller scale. However, the Japanese were far more brutal in their methods. This is a shocking, explicit book and not for the faint of heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is must read. every war there is some degree of atrocity...if one like it or not ..., such is the war-even today, in the Gulf region or any other war torn region for that matter, the struggle still goes on..... To the Japanese reader and to the Kat S, who posted review here... your point is well taken but you misplaced youopinion as to review of this book. The point author was making as I understand it is not to expose atroicity but rather to urge reponsibility of the act comitted. As author has suggested, the shindler of China nanjing if you will, were German and Hittler admirer if you comitted a crime or atrocity in this case, one must accept his wrong doing and try to repent or at the least acknowlege the incident. (but)this is something the Japanese Government nor some of Japanese are still refuse to do. Why? is it the only crime war time Japanese committed against other culture and people of other national orgin? The answer is definately not, of course ther are other crimially insane acts comitted by other nation thru out history. the differences however between German and other nations versus that of Japan is German admitted its wrong doing and made in to law todo so as such is crime, where as Japanese is in denial and still refuses to do.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would like to say that everyone should read this book. It is a part of history, a part of what will never be told. At the same time not everyone can handle what was done to the people of Nanking. I can't even say that the Holocaust was the horrible genocide of our century after reading this. So many don't know about what happened. Why? We as humans, as people should know what is going on in this world at all times and make it a point to never have anything like this happen again. This book in NO way is for children, pre-teens or anyone who cannot handle violent rape, torture or murder that is graphically told & imaged. God bless Iris Chang(author), who died of a self inflicted gun shot wound. Thank you for letting the world in on a horror that would otherwise have been silent to us all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can understand now how the japanese tortured the chinese in NanKing. And they got away just like they did in Shanghai. Now I know why my grandparents hate them so much. And they still havent apoligized to the chinese for their insane acts. My grandparents had to evacuate when the japanese stormed into Shanghai. THIS EVENT SHOULD BE REMEMBERED.
APWORLDisHARD More than 1 year ago
Iris Chang's documentation of the atrocities suffered by the Chinese people of Nanking at the hands of the Japanese helps to show just how deadly the world is. The book is rather graphic, but it needs to be in order to truly show just how beastly the events were that took place. While Chang does seem rather biased against the Japanese, it still is a rather thorough description of what happened in December 1938. With over 80,000 women raped and 300,000 people killed, it is impossible to illustrate this part of history without being graphic, so it is understandable that Chang would hold no punches. The book gives insight into what happened, the reaction to it (especially that of the Western world), and an explanation of what might have happened. Chang wrote bluntly in her book, and this helps to reinforce her point. The book is a very well-written, informative read on something that should be common knowledge to people. It is easy to recommend, so long as the reader has the stomach for it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The men and women in these pages are either demoniacally despicable, or among the bravest in the 20th century, if not ever. Although this book started a firestorm of controversy, it showed the defensiveness towards which the Japanese still hold all these years after the Nanking Massacre. It is remarkable to read since Ms. Chang's unfortunate death, by her own hand, as their is so much clarity and depth into the human psyche and as she put the 'an examination of the shadow self of mankind.' The Japanese, in these pages, do not come off as the cosmopolitan connoseuirs of commerce they have been attributed to in the last 30 years. In fact, their strategical alignments were at amateurish at best, and the repulsiveness of their Nanking 'campaign' enlisted a blood-lust of violence and viciousness which for its spasmodic orgy, might be unequaled. Thank you to Ms. Chang for clearing the dialogue.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I read this book, I read each word with tears in my eyes and a scream in my throat. The sadness, anger, and shame I felt after reading this book made me want to hold every person who suffered during the occupation of Naking. I wanted to comfort them in a way the world has yet to do. Ms. Chang's book has finally given these forgotten holocaust members a voice, and frankly, I believe that this holocaust should now be the one in the spotlight.
Anonymous 6 months ago
When you think you're having a bad day, or that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, think of this. You'll realise¿ life probably isn't so bad.
Griffin369 More than 1 year ago
It is a passionately written book. The author seemed to be consumed by the need to write this book. I believe it covers the correct points of view and explains them all. It is sad to think that politics are able to factor in to anything outside of taking care of their own people, but such is our sad truth throughout history. It is sad to see that a beautiful mind, such as the authors, no longer exists due to a burning drive that inevitably turned it against itself. This should be required information for all generations in all countries as to show them what humans are capable of and to help determine the punishment when such atrocities are conducted.
AEEJC More than 1 year ago
A horrific aspect of WWII we should all know more about.  We rarely hear much about what the Japanese did, but this is a well researched and well written historical account of what was done to the Chinese in Nanking.  Hard to read, but for someone who cares about history and has an interest in WWII history a must read.   The Japanese were as cruel as Germans during this time. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This actually happened. The reason reporters did not report this was becaus they were in a safe zone designated by an international organization, and they could not have seen the bodies. Only toward the end of the war were the Japanese driven out. As for 20,000 rapes, i doubt it, but 300,000 deaths i can believe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read several books about battles during WWII, but found the Rape of Nanking was a subject often just skimmed over in passing. I was interested to delve into what really happened there, and this book gave a very good background as to why the world ignored it, and what atrocities took place. I felt like the author started getting a little redundant toward the end of the book, but overall it was a very interesting read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Certainly one of the best books ever written about Japan's imperial idealism and overall plan for humanity. An excellent reference for any student of history. A must read-own!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book about brutality
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A horrific example of the brutality that was the imperial japanese army. A must read for those interested in the events leading up to the war in the pacific.
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