Review: The Rape of Nanking, second edition

The Rape of Nanking
The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

By Iris Chang. 314 pp.
Basic, new edition 2012. $15.99.

This passionate book, recently reissued, is bristling with facts, figures, and the memories of witnesses. They put flesh on the awful dimensions of the human tragedy that followed the Japanese Army’s occupation of what had been China’s capital. Pain, anger, horror, desperation, inhumanity, morality, heroism—all have human faces thanks to author Iris Chang’s emotional engagement and deep research.

And therein lies a twist. Acclaimed in the media when it was first published in 1997, this bestseller drew withering fire from many respected historians for a variety of reasons. Some questioned Chiang’s facts, like the civilian body count (80,000–300,000) she claimed the Japanese brutally piled up in mind-numbing ways that perhaps only the SS might also have dreamt up. Some argued with her depiction of Japanese wartime culture as the inevitable continuation of its bloodthirsty heritage. Some denied that postwar Japan denied its wartime faults. And they had some real points.

But given what torture and slaughter Japan would inflict during, say, the Bataan Death March or its building of the Burma Death Railway, or its decades-long insistence that “comfort women” were willing, it’s hard to resist Chang’s account. The Rape of Nanking’s popularity made her a leading advocate for the 1990s movement demanding Japanese recognition of and compensation for war crimes. She committed suicide in 2004, a victim of depression. This book remains essential reading; not coincidentally, its visceral history illuminates today’s tricky relationship between China and Japan.

9 Responses

  1. DAVID

    The horror of world war ll will never be forgotten in a haste. and the impact of the Holocaust.

  2. Stewmack1953

    I read the book when it first came out. I could not help but to compare it to the Nazi’s atrocities and the lack of response the west gave to the victims.. With one exception that being the Nazi party member John Rabe who organized European business men and missionaries in saving thousands by setting up a international zone of safety for those they could. .

    • Chico

      Well, it was not due to “the West” first and foremost. It was a calculated decision by Harry S Truman — as was his decision alone to drop the two atom bombs. The idea was to ignore all Japan’s atrocities in exchange for their bio weapons knowledge and to turn them against the USSR. It turned out they didn’t have nearly the amount of knowledge Truman thought, but had in fact mostly just tortured and poisoned Chinese to death for what amounted to sadistic amusement.

  3. Judy Wade

    Every atrocity should be well recorded, documented and TAUGHT. To do less is to allow humanity to continue it’s mistakes.

  4. Terri Montgomerty

    Currently, I am reading Unbroken by Colleen Hildebrand and she mentions the atrocities that occurred in Nanking during WWII. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Now I want to read Rape of Nanking!

  5. Terri Montgomery

    Currently, I am reading Unbroken by Colleen Hildebrand and she mentions the atrocities that occurred in Nanking by the Japanese. I was shocked by the things they did. The Rape of Nanking will be next on my book list.

  6. Joe

    I will definitely read this book. I recommend Company Commander, for a definitive account of American troop leading in World War II Europe.

  7. Abel Yau

    I recommend: My Father’s Dying Wish: Legacies of War Guilt in a Japanese Family

    by Ayako Kurahashi


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