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‘Nanking’ author commits suicide

Graphic book prompted Japan to reexamine history
/ Source: Reuters

The author of “the Rape of Nanking,” an acclaimed history of Japanese brutality against China in the 1930s, has committed suicide, officials said Thursday.

Iris Chang, 36, published “The Rape of Nanking,” a graphic account of the Japanese Army invasion of China in 1937. After it appeared in 1997, the book helped prompt Japan to reexamine this dark history.

Police found her body in a car on a road south of San Francisco and said she died from a single bullet to the head. Her husband reported her missing Monday and police identified the body Tuesday morning, said Terrance Helm of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.

“Our detectives determined it was a suicide,” he said.

Her agent, Susan Rabiner, said Chang had suffered from ”classical clinical depression” and had been hospitalized earlier this year. She said Chang left a note to her family asking that she be remembered as she was before her illness.

The release of her best-selling book came on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese capture of the Chinese capital of Nanking. She wrote graphically of the result in a book her agent said sold about half a million copies.

“An estimated 20,000-80,000 Chinese women were raped,” Chang wrote. “Many soldiers went beyond rape to disembowel women, slice off their breasts, nail them alive to walls. Fathers were forced to rape their daughters and sons their mothers as other family members watched.”

“Not only did live burials, castration, the carving of organs and the roasting of people become routine, but more diabolical tortures were practiced.”

Book was never published in JapanJapan has been slow to acknowledge the scale of the atrocities, and her account sparked anger from conservative Japanese. In 1998 Japan’s ambassador to the United States created a diplomatic stir by calling Chang’s book misleading.

Her book was never published in Japan although it was translated into a number of foreign languages. “I think the right-wing assaults on the Japanese publishing houses have sent a chill across the entire industry,” she told Reuters in 2001.

Chang spent two years working on the book when she was in her late 20s, interviewing aged survivors in China. The effort gave her an unusually high profile for a young historian, and her Web site lists more than two dozen public appearances for the period between March and May this year.

“A lot of people, when Iris would tour and talk about the Rape of Nanking, would come to her with their stories of unhappiness, atrocities, violence, on any side,” said Wendy Wolf, one of her editors at Viking Penguin. “It sort of opened minds to talking and sharing their own experiences.”

Her agent Rabiner said she was working most recently on a book about U.S. forces who fought on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines in World War Two.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, to Chinese immigrant parents, Chang grew up in Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1989. She worked for the Associated Press wire service and the Chicago Tribune before becoming an historian full time. She lived in Sunnyvale, California.

Her most recent book was “The Chinese in America: A Narrative History.” She is survived by her husband and two-year old son.