Iris Chang

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Iris Chang

Iris Shun-Ru Chang (Traditional Chinese: 張純如, Simplified Chinese: 张纯如; Pinyin: Zhāng Chnr; March 28, 1968November 9, 2004) was a political activist supported by the Chinese government, and she was also a freelance journalist. Some people, including Chang herself, allege that she is not a trained but historian. She was best known for her popular but controversial account of the Nanjing Massacre, The Rape of Nanking. She committed suicide in 2004 after suffering from depression.


Early life

The daughter of two University professors who immigrated from Taiwan, Chang was born in Princeton, New Jersey and was raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where she attended University High School of Urbana, Illinois. She earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism at the University of Illinois, a master's degree in Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, and later worked as a New York Times stringer from Urbana-Champaign. After brief stints at the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, she began her career as a writer, and also lectured and wrote articles for various magazines.


Though not a trained historian, Chang wrote three notable works that document the experiences of Asians and Chinese Americans in history.

Her first book, titled Thread of the Silkworm (1995), tells the true story of the Chinese professor, Dr. Tsien Hsue-shen during the Red Scare in the 1950s. Although Tsien was one of the founders of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and helped the U.S military debrief Nazi scientists for many years, he was suddenly falsely accused of being a spy, Communist Party member, and placed under house arrest from 1950 to 1955. Dr. Tsien Hsue-shen left for the People's Republic of China in September of 1955 aboard the merchant ship President Cleveland. Upon return to China, Tsien developed the Dongfeng missile program, and later the Silkworm missile, which would endanger U.S. warships during the Persian Gulf War. The USS Missouri was attacked by two Iraqi Silkworm missiles in February of 1991, but only debris hit the Missouri as two Sea Dart missiles fired from the HMS Gloucester took out the Silkworms.

Her second book, the best selling The Rape of Nanking (1997), alleged that the Japanese soldiers killed innocent civilians and disarmed soldiers. The book gained the Western people's attention despite the fact that the accuracy of the book is questioned. In fact, pictures in the book have never been proven as the part of Nanking Massacre but many of them were fabricated and misattributed. The Chinese government paid for her research in China regarding the book.

Finally, The Chinese in America (2003) describes the overall history of Chinese immigrants. The U.S. media accused that Chang made factual mistakes, however.

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The Rape of Nanking, Chang's most famous work

Depression and death

Chang suffered a mental breakdown that required hospitalization while researching her fourth book, about U.S. soldiers who fought the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II and the Bataan Death March. She believed this hospitalization in Louisville was perhaps a conspiracy against her, but her family and doctors attribute the breakdown partially to consistent sleep deprivation. Even after the release from the hospital, she still suffered from depression. She lived in Sunnyvale, California with her husband Brett Douglas, and their 2-year old son Christopher. On Tuesday, November 9 2004 at about 9 a.m., Chang was found dead in her car by a county water district employee on a rural road south of Los Gatos and west of California State Route 17, in Santa Clara County. Investigators concluded that Chang had shot herself in the head.

She left behind three suicide notes each dated Monday, November 8, 2004. "Statement of Iris Chang" stated:

I promise to get up and get out of the house every morning. I will stop by to visit my parents then go for a long walk. I will follow the doctor's orders for medications. I promise not to hurt myself. I promise not to visit Web sites that talk about suicide.

The next note was a draft of the third:

When you believe you have a future, you think in terms of generations and years. When you do not, you live not just by the day -- but by the minute. It is far better that you remember me as I was -- in my heyday as a best-selling author -- than the wild-eyed wreck who returned from Louisville... Each breath is becoming difficult for me to take -- the anxiety can be compared to drowning in an open sea. I know that my actions will transfer some of this pain to others, indeed those who love me the most. Please forgive me. Forgive me because I cannot forgive myself.

The third note included:

There are aspects of my experience in Louisville that I will never understand. Deep down I suspect that you may have more answers about this than I do. I can never shake my belief that I was being recruited, and later persecuted, by forces more powerful than I could have imagined. Whether it was the CIA or some other organization I will never know. As long as I am alive, these forces will never stop hounding me.
Days before I left for Louisville I had a deep foreboding about my safety. I sensed suddenly threats to my own life: an eerie feeling that I was being followed in the streets, the white van parked outside my house, damaged mail arriving at my P.O. Box. I believe my detention at Norton Hospital was the government's attempt to discredit me.
I had considered running away, but I will never be able to escape from myself and my thoughts. I am doing this because I am too weak to withstand the years of pain and agony ahead.

Reports say that news of her suicide hit the massacre survivor community in Nanjing hard. In tribute to Chang, the survivors held a service at the same time as her funeral at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos, California on Friday, November 12 2004 at the victims' memorial hall in Nanjing. The victims memorial hall in Nanjing, which collects documents, photos, and human remains from the massacre, will add a wing dedicated to Iris Chang in 2005.


External links

ja:アイリス・チャン nl:Iris Chang zh:张纯如


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