Free «Critique of "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II" by Iris Chang» Essay Sample

Critique of


Iris Chang, the author of the book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, depicts the spitefulness of the cruelest days of 1937 China. Moreover, this depiction is characterized by the smallest details possible. The Japanese started their invasion by bayonetting 20,000 men of age outside the city so that they could never again fight against them. Then, they moved to the extermination of the elderly, women, and children (Chang 39). These murders were committed with special atrocity. Before being murdered, adult women, girls, and old women were raped (Chang 62). Chang also wrote that simultaneously, sons were forced to rape mothers and fathers had to do the same with their daughters. The inhabitants of the city were used as dummies for training with bayonets, and they were attacked with the cruelest dogs. Thousands of corpses floated along the Yangtze river, preventing vessels from mooring. Moreover, the Japanese had to use these corpses as pontoons to get on their ships. Therefore, the book is a manifestation of negative cases of violence as these cases should be remembered in order to prevent such events in the future.

The Author’s Purpose in Writing the Book

During the work on the book, Iris Chang traveled much. Ironically, a large number of descendants of the survivors Nanking atrocities live in the USA now. Thus, the author had no difficulty in finding them. She interviewed them, collecting scraps of information, restoring those events in pieces and tiniest details. Chang was not interested in a merely historic description. Therefore, her essential purpose was not to retell the circumstances and describe the massacre itself. She wanted to perpetuate the destinies of all people who had died or who could have survived in Nanking.

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While writing her book, Chang also aimed to show the versatility of human aggressiveness and violence. By this, the author means that humanity should reject any possibility of violent actions both at interpersonal and international levels. Her book has an exceptional construction. Thus, events are presented through the eyes of a Chinese victim, a Japanese executioner, and a foreign observer. Such a structure helps better achieve the essential purposes that the author has set when writing her book. Finally, one of her aims could be to emphasize the tense relations between China and Japan, and the author successfully incorporates this idea into her book.

What Is the Book About?

The book focuses on the events of the past. In December 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War, soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army killed thousands of Nanking residents (Chang 36). Nanking was the capital of China that time. According to the evidence submitted to the Tokyo War Crimes Court, Japanese soldiers had raped 20,000 Chinese women, many of whom were subsequently killed (Chang 46). However, Chang mentioned 80,000) victims. She describes these events in her book and makes the reader understand the cruelty of the Japanese soldiers. Regardless of their social standing, all women, including even Buddhist nuns, were raped. These murders were committed with particular cruelty, and the examples were provided throughout the book. Firearms, which were generally used by the Japanese soldiers, were not used when dealing with the citizens of Nanking. According to the book, thousands of victims were stabbed with bayonets, their heads were cut off, and people were burned or buried alive (Chang 78). The Japanese invaders also killed small children. Women were gutted and turned inside out. They were raped and then brutally murdered. Such cases included not only adult women but also small girls as well as women of advanced age. After being raped, pregnant women were ripped open and their unborn children were taken out of their bellies.

The Japanese power of that time was huge, and they did not see the limitations of their violence. In 1937, Japan fully invaded China. This was an important step in the implementation of its worldwide hegemonic plan (Chang 36). Chang effectively claims that the Chinese war against the Japanese invaders is a history of stubborn resistance, marked by overcoming numerous difficulties (39). At that time, China was a poor country with a fragile economy. However, in a situation where the Chinese army and people still lived in harsh conditions and used more obsolete weapons than the enemy did, they stubbornly attacked the Japanese army, but they had to pay a dear price for it.

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A large number of the Chinese military and civilians died in the war, many families were destroyed, but the Chinese did not surrender. On the contrary, fostering their strong fighting spirit and dedication, they fought for national honor and freedom. Thus, Chang fairly emphasized on the fact that due to the selfless resistance of the Chinese military, the massive progression of the Japanese army was suppressed and stopped (56). The Chinese military commanders strategically coordinated military operations and supported the actions of the allied powers, coordinated their strategic behavior in the European and Pacific theaters of military operations. Consequently, they made an indelible contribution to the victory of the world war against fascism and the Japanese Empire in particular.

Iris Chang points to the numerous inhuman actions, committed by the Japanese soldiers in regards to women. She also mentions the brothels for the Japanese soldiers in Nanking. After being captured during the Sino-Japanese War in December 1937, the city faced massacres and rapes. Regardless of the order that prohibited violence, the Japanese military command was indifferent towards the atrocities of ordinary soldiers and officers. Rape of women was seen as normal behavior in the occupied territories. What is more, to control the process, brothels were established and euphemistically called “comfort stations” (Chang 45). The first of such brothels near Nanking was opened in 1938 (Chang 45). The Japanese soldiers used such places for the satisfaction of their needs and to perform violence against the citizens of this city.

When analyzing the violent actions of the Japanese soldiers, Chang pointed to the fact that the crimes, committed by them in Nanking, were not recognized by Japan. In addition, this case had never been depicted by any kind of media before Chang wrote the book about it. The Japanese authorities still do not want to officially recognize the very fact of this massacre, considering the information on the number of victims too high. They never apologized for the war crimes, committed in China. According to their data represented in the book, only 20,000 people died in Nanking in the winter of 1937-1938 (Chang 36). The Japanese authorities deny calling the incident a ‘massacre’, saying that it was the propaganda of the Chinese, aimed at humiliating and insulting Japan. In their school history books, it is simply written that many people had died in Nanking. According to the Japanese authorities, photos of the massacres in the city, which are an indisputable evidence of the nightmares of those days, are fake. They still claim this despite the fact that most of the photographs have been found in the archives of the Japanese soldiers, taken as memorable souvenirs. Chinese women, who had been forced to become prostitutes or who had been raped, asked Tokyo to pay compensation. The Japanese court replied that the relevant verdict could not be reached because of the limitation of the time when the crimes had been committed. The Japanese used only melee weapons for killing, thus demonstrating inhuman brutality, which was completely uncharacteristic for the them.

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During the rapes in Nanking, many soldiers got even further, gutting women and cutting off their breasts and nailing them to the walls. At the same time, the Japanese soldiers, according to the book, also committed castration of Nanking men and burning them afterwards. Such actions became common, but even more sinister and cruel actions were practiced. Moreover, even the Nazis, who had been present in the city at that time, were shocked, calling this massacre the work of the ‘devil’s machine’. One of the chapter talks about the idea that if one had decided to connect all people, who had died in Nanking, by their hands, this chain would stretch from Nanking to Hangzhou, and the latter was located 2,000 miles away. Furthermore, had anyone decided to collect the blood of victims, its total weigh would be 1,200 tons, and the bodies would fill 2,500 railway wagons (Chang 96). However, if the Holocaust has been admitted by Germans, a large segment of the Japanese public denies the rape of Nanking and even claims that they have never heard of it. Many books, even outside of Asia, remind of what had happened very briefly and casually, putting the volume of the narrative in just several paragraphs. Nevertheless, Chang wrote her book in such a way that there were no negative points, only the positive ones since every fact depicted in it had been based on the credible historical evidence.

Kinds of Sources Employed and How They Have Shaped the Book

Due to the versatility of the book and the diversity of the sources used, Iris Chang’s work has survived five editions in the USA. Additionally, this account of the rapes in Nanking was interpreted into numerous languages, including Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, and, paradoxically, Japanese. While looking for her sources, Iris Chang had discovered that a large number of real witnesses to the Nanking Massacre lived in the USA. They emigrated in the 1930s and 1940s (Chang 36). In addition, she managed to obtain diaries, films, and photos made by the Americans who had lived at that time in Nanking. Naturally, Chang also led her research in China but not in Japan. The latter fact subsequently caused serious criticism, especially from the Japanese.

Recently, the world community obtained documents from an international charity that had worked in Nanking at the time of the massacre. According to them, as well as the records confiscated from the Japanese, in more than 28 mass slaughters, soldiers had killed more than 200,000 civilians (Chang 76). Furthermore, 150,000 people were murdered separately (Chang 23). The overall quantity of all victims would reach 500,000 (Chang 86). All these statistics were taken from the historical sources used by the author. As the critiques state, the sources Chang had chosen for her book were both formal historical and scientific documents that were accompanied by the stories of those who had survived the tragedy in Nanking. The language of the sources was diverse as the author tried to collect both available sources in Chinese and English. The choice of the sources was extremely important as it had helped find the proper basis for the book and identify whether the Nanking victims’ stories were truth or fiction.

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What Are the Author’s Conclusions and Were They Adequately Supported?

For the Chinese people, the bloody massacre in Nanking has been synonymous with the Japanese war crimes, a symbol of the contempt, with which the Japanese empire had treated its neighbor. Therefore, it is not difficult to fuel the anti-Japanese sentiment by using links to Nanking. In addition, no broad gesture and apology from Tokyo has been issued yet. By investigating this historical case and writing the book The Rape of Nanking, Chang wanted to show the reality of human nature and human violence to the entire world. Regardless of the fact that the book was not successful when it was first published, the author had tried to depict the cruelest cases. However, her aim was not only to describe this cruelty but also to point to the fact that any violence was improper and it should not be tolerated. With her book, Chang has tried to convince the readers that violence was not the tool to be used against other people. Furthermore, the book concludes that people should remember about the violence in Nanking in order to prevent the further possible cases of similar or even worse cruelty. Chang also mentions that it is necessary to keep peace and harmony instead of waging wars that result in rapes, murders, and deaths of civilians.


The book “The Rape of Nanking” outlines the stories of the victims of the events in Nanking during the Japanese occupation of China. This narration is accompanied by a large number of historical archival documents and figures. This book presents a real picture of the brutality of the Japanese army, accusing it of monstrously terrible and tragic crimes and describing them with thorough details. The author of the book successfully proves that the Nanking Massacre is just one example of the war crimes, committed by the Japanese. Owing to the use of such historical elements in this book, readers could realize how merciless and bloodthirsty the Japanese aggressors had been and understand what sacrifice China had made in the struggle for victory. Thus, this book is a perfect example of the violence that humans are capable of and that should be prevented in the future.