Nanking Film Trailers

Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, “Nanking,” 2007, a documentary interspersing authentic historical footage with reenacted readings of journals, diaries, and letters by Westerners who were in the Chinese capital city in 1937-38.

Lu Chuan’s “City of Life and Death” (2009), a black-and-white cinematic masterpiece. Realism, and the Japanese point of view, is the advanced technique taken by this Chinese director.  “City of Life and Death” did quite well nevertheless in the PRC box office.

and an excerpt from Lu Chuan’s film showing a Japanese Army drum ceremony and festival dance in Nanking:

and the whole film, with Chinese subtitles:

“John Rabe” by Florian Gallenberger (2009), about the German businessman and Nazi Party member who stayed in the Nanking Safety Zone and saved perhaps up to 20,000 Chinese lives.  The whole film is available in German on YouTube, but English subtitles are available elsewhere:

“Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking,” a production put together to honor the life and research of the young Chinese-American journalist whose 1997 book of the same name blew the lid off the public Nanking debate and continues to generate controversy:

and finally, a US wartime classic, the 1944 propaganda film “The Battle of China,” which runs nearly an hour long:

California Swoop: Xinjiang Scholars and Hoover Papers

I’m on the California northward swoop this afternoon, having spent yesterday at University of California-Irvine and today, thanks to a 3 a.m. start in Los Angeles and monumentally placid weather on the coast, working in the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford.

UC-Irvine is the home of Prof. Jeffrey Wasserstrom and his China Beat blog.  The blog’s leading essay today, by James Millward of Georgetown, provides an excellent model for academic blogging, and is a very useful guide to the meaning of a recent (and somewhat stunning) Bloomberg piece on Western scholars of Xinjiang denied visas into China.  Don’t miss it; the link is here.

Not to be missed by students and scholars of Chinese national minority groups!

For its part, Hoover is hosting a tremendous exhibit of China-related revolutionary materials, entitled “A Century of Change” which is likewise fascinating.  The focus on the Republican Era provides a path to understanding contemporary China which privileges nationalism over communism in the construction of modern Chinese identity.  It also includes a handful of stunning posters from the Japanese occupation of North China from 1937-1940.  For more on the exhibit, an attractive popular blog has more information (including a mention of the new text about Iris Chang’s life, by her mother), while the Hoover Institution provides a more in-depth catalog of the exhibition contents.

Finally, Iris Chang’s mother has written a new book, entitled The Woman Who Could Not Forget, about her daughter.  The book was published this past May; as a review points out, the author will be reading from the text tomorrow in Cupertino.   As this is a subject of great interest to me as well as to many readers and students, I will endeavor to get to the event and survey the book with something resembling alacrity.

In the meantime I have 20 boxes of Iris Chang papers to excavate.  Didn’t Kirkegaard, that target of so many St. Olaf papers, once write a treatise on repetition?

Archives Spelunk

I am going to be thick in some archives for the next couple of days and don’t anticipate posting.   In the meantime, it would take someone really especially hard-headed not to sense all of the felicity of Howard French’s dispatch about Chinese influence in sub-Saharan Africa.  [Thanks to for the link.]

Japanese manga artist and provocateur Kobayashi Yoshinori pictures Chinese-American author Iris Chang as a Chinese Communist minion

German Sources on the War of Resistance/Rape of Nanking

What do you know about German sources on the Rape of Nanking and the War of Resistance besides the diary of John Rabe?  If you’re like most people, not much.

I wanted to share a few new tidbits from sources I recently found, as a means of indicating that in the future, more work along these lines could (and should) be done.  The point is that German (and French, for that matter) scholarship and primary sources on the Rape of Nanking and the War of Resistance really need to be consulted and understood in order for all of us to have a clearer view of what actually happened, who various witnesses were, and how the events were interpreted around the world in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Lily Abegg was a reporter for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in China in the late 1930s and travelled all around the country.  Her description of the battle of Shanghai, and the Japanese entry into Nanking, is not completely hair-raising, but it does add some detail.  For instance, she tells the following story:

Shortly before the fall of Nanking, thousands of wounded came into the city, but there they could not count on the ruling [KMT] to take care of them any longer.  Once, two thousand (2,000) wounded  from the Shanghai front arrived in the city in medical train cars, and lay there for two days.  There, in the station, the patients who had died in the meantime were laid, and the wagons were needed for other uses.  The dead fouled the air [Die Toten verpessteten die Luft.]  Refugees from the city ran and jumped over the wounded and stole away with their packs.  Members of the international aid committees went to the ostensible Chinese leaders and demanded a single ambulence, but there was no money with which to purchase gasoline for the vehicle.  Finally one brought an automobile….But no one [foreigner] was left to move all the wounded.  Chinese observers stood by and watched.  They wanted the foreigners to do it themselves, but then a brave policeman emerged and declared that this wouldn’t do [das ginge nun doch nicht].  Finally… the leaderless people began to move themselves.

[Lilly Abegg, China’s Erneuerung: Der Raum als Waffe [China's Renewal: The Land as Weapon], Frankfurt: 1940, pp. 167-167, translation from the German by Adam Cathcart]

There are plenty of more details in this text, including an analysis of General Iwane Matsui’s tactics in the battles at Shanghai that led toward Nanking, and more worth analyzing.  But instead I will leave you with a few relevant photographs.


"The Japanese rule the air. But Japanese bombers must fly over endless mountain ranges before they reach Chongqing." From Lily Abegg, China's Erneuerung, 1940.


"Chinese with their forbidden opium crop in the northern Ching'an range," from Die Mandschurei, 1937.


"On strange land. Refugees from the battle areas do not hinder the progress of Japanese troops." Lily Abegg, China's Erneuerung.

Iris Chang and the Politics of Emotional Authenticity

Not particularly as a matter of choice, of late I have been thinking about the aftermath.   War, genocide, and mass violence are giant forces which have thrown up immense detritus in Northeast Asia: memorialization is the norm, but so, too, is the suppression of memory and its manipulation by politician-revolutionaries of all stripes.

Japanese politicians enter Yasukuni Shrine while Chinese leaders put their husky lungs into anti-Japanese anthems; Japanese peace activists see their monuments attacked while Chinese lawyers roam the land hunting for evidence 70 years old.  And young Chinese-Americans discover their voices  in “revelation” of evidence that has been lying there for decades, in plain view or in an archive, for anyone to see.

Having just emerged from a short encounter with perhaps ten boxes of materials from the Iris Chang Papers at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford relating to The Rape of Nanking, it’s something I am mulling over presently.  How are people like myself supposed to survey the ashes (that is, the documents) and pronounce some kind of a verdict therefrom?  How does a scholar/witness locate his viscera, and, presuming he finds it, what then is he supposed to do with it?  In other words, what is the proper relationship between emotion, even fiery moralism, and scholarship?  And is scholarship itself a form of witnessing?  What, in other words, is proper relation of emotion to historical work?

And, although I had a few quibbles with a recent commenter about Iris Chang, it’s something the one known as “Stinky Tofu” (臭豆腐) got me thinking about further.  How does personal experience (and linguistic limitation!) impact our choice of research topic and the interpretation applied?

In a box of index cards scrawled on by Iris Chang (Box 195 of her papers), Chang has created the category “My lifestyle/philosophy” under which to capture data to share on her book tour.   On a card in that category entitled “Personal Feelings When Writing Book,” she notes that she cried frequently while writing the book, apparently out of empathy for the victims.

Chang’s idea that somehow she alone was privy to “the forgotten holocaust of World War II” while researching and writing the book likely heightened her emotion.

I wonder if this is really touching and beautiful, or if, to put it bluntly, Chang is seeking to bypass the brain by connecting to the viscera.

Somehow I can imagine the concerned looks this fact would inspire on the faces of lifelong scholars at York University like Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, who, in his indispensable edited volume The Naking Atrocity 1937-38 (Berghahn Press), states: “Historians must try, at least, to rise above the personal, political, and ethnic biases that virtually all human beings harbor. “

A couple of weeks ago I heard a similar message when I had lunch with, and then attended a talk by, Carl Wilkins.  Carl was one of the few Americans in Rwanda when the genocide began in 1994, and he was the only American to remain in Kilgali, saving lives and making compromises, for the terrible duration of the violence.   I heard Carl speak last year also at Pacific Lutheran University, but his talk this time, to a smaller audience, stirred me up even further.

But he is an advocate for genocide prevention, and I, at least explicitly, am not in that business.  By the same token, historical scholarship is inevitably entangled with politics .  All we need to read as reminder to this fact is Sima Qian’s work, and be glad we have all our body parts.  And Iris Chang’s papers, tear-stained and all.

Further Assessment of the Iris Chang Papers

Iris Chang was an intensely productive, in her words, “almost obsessive” individual, and these qualities shine through in her private papers.

After publishing the book The Rape of Nanking, in preparation for her book tour, Chang captured her thoughts on a slew of a 3×5 inch index cards, cards which she then organized meticulously under headers like “Personal experiences writing the book.”  She asked herself questions like “Why did you write the book?” and “What emotional impact did writing this book have on you?”    (Iris Chang Papers, Boxes 194 and 195).   And of course there is what we would expect to hear: writing the book was a personally taxing undertaking, she cried while she was writing it, her parents cried about it, too.

But there are much more interesting little tidbits buried in these little cards.  Under the heading “Why [did the Nanking Massacre] vanished from World History?” a card can be found that reads partially like this:

Why is this event coming back [now]?

Tiananmen Square

And, in Box 195, under the header “My own experiences,” we have this:

Book [was] so upsetting to Nien Cheng, who survived her own hell by Cultural Revolution, that she had to put it down

Under the category “How You Can Change [the] Situation”,  predicting a call to action in her media tour, we get a card entitled “What can I as a US citizen do to change the status quo?”  to which Chang answers:

1. Support the Lipinski bill

2. Buy [my] book, donate a copy to the local library

3. Talk to [your] children’s history teacher & ask why this [e.g., Rape of Nanking] isn’t being taught

4. Refuse to buy Japan product & write to corporations & tell them

Other categories include “Shocking statistics” and “Shocking quotes,”  and “My feelings about Japan.”  In the last-listed category, she states: “This book is not anti-Japan and its’ not Japan bashing…..” which then swoops into something culminating vertically in the phrase “until no state denial!”  It was a rather violently structured card amid the bunch.

I found one other card to be particularly stimulating: another one with lots of data packed in, obviously something she was feeling passionate about in 1999: “My questions for the COX committee.”

Now we are onto something!

The idea being: the book emerged in a period of rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, represented by the paranoid Cox Report.  The Cox Report and the detention of Wen Ho Lee emphasized in some ways the need for a more vigorous Chinese nationalism and reinforced the tropes of unjust victimization of Chinese globally that was emerging in the U.S. at that time.  As Joshua Fogel has written rather convincingly, part of the wildfire spread of Iris Chang’s book is connected with the globalization of Chinese identities and the identity politics among the Chinese diaspora.

And if that weren’t enough, here is a letter to Iris Chang (with original spelling maintained) from a little old lady in San Francisco, dated Sept. 14 1998:

Dear Ms. Chang   Re: RAPE/Nanking

Congradulations for your dedication, perseverence, courage to write so vivied the truth of the ASIAN Holocoust by the savage Japs.

When you mentioned the Lipinski Bill, I, who is vision impaired, had someone take me to see my Congressman Tom Lantos to urge him to help this Bill.  Mr. Lantos has an assistant, Jonathan Chu, whose family members were victims of Jap atrocities.

I was so anxious to see this Bill finally in Congress (House), that I made almost 400 copies of the most sickening but truthful photos in your book, together with my letter, and sent them to almost all of the members of the House.

Whenever, newscasters sympathizers tell of the poor victim japs relocated during Worl War II, I also sent them your phoots protesting against their UNtruthful news reporting.  Of NOT telling the whole truth-the Asian Holocoust cased by the savage japs.

B. Fung

Impressions of the Iris Chang Papers

It’s been a whirlwind, head-bending kind of two-day sprint through a minor swath of the Hoover Institute Archives at Stanford University.

Iris Chang wasn’t my only target — thanks to some very diligent young colleagues I was also lucky to find my way into a thicket of Korean War propaganda (some of which I hope to leak out on this blog), more work by Sheldon Harris, and a few hundred pages of the master diplomat-analyst O. Edmund Clubb in the tendentious 1950s.  But more on that later.

All things considered, Iris Chang’s incredible energy, her coiled personality, and her unchallenged productivity are revealed in these papers, where ultimate inwardness (better phrased in the German innigkeit) coexists with statements to her self like “Celebrity Affords Certain Advantages.”  And not that she cares anymore (she being deceased, and her papers thus available for my perusal), but the experience leaves me quite conflicted.

Certain very important hallmarks of historical research shine through in Iris Chang’s materials regarding the preparation for her groundbreaking book, The Rape of Nanking (1997).

Drawing from the sheer mass of the photocopied materials from such other archives as the Yale Divinity Library’s huge missionary archive, Chang took pains to cite cite cite her assertions, something that can’t be said for Jung Chang’s treatment of Mao. At least two boxes of printouts show her extracting, isolating her every sentence onto separate sheets of paper and explaining to herself what source it the sentence is based upon.  This is the a kind of thorough research and writing method with which most scholars can’t necessarily don’t always bother themselves, even if some of her sources are a bit suspect.

She is an active reader, using pencil and highlighter to good effect, amassing much data.  Going through a fraction of these papers has given me more respect for Chang — of course she is going to be attacked for leaving details from important sources out!  There are a lot of sources, and each has a life of its own.  What is really needed is a huge and comprehensive volume of primary sources as a companion piece to the book.

She has transcripts of video interviews conducted with then-New York Times reporter Tillman Durdin and his charming China Hand missionary wife, letters from missionaries like Fitch and Bates and Magee, of course, and makes notes on these things in abundant pencil, mixing English with Chinese.

Iris Chang reads Chinese!  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there is a huge amount of material in these papers that reveals that Chang in the aftermath of the book’s completion was wrapped up wholly in its marketing, and was in some ways beset by various proposals (both business and personal) in the several years after its publication.

In one notebook excerpt from April 2000, she records her impressions of a meeting with a certain Hollywood agent affiliated with Mel Gibson.  After learning that “a profascist in Japan called me a Chinese slut,” Chang gets a pitch from the agent.  It appears that he wanted her to sell him the rights to her story, or work with him to turn the story of her book into cinema.  “Your passion is the story,” he appears to tell her, “you didn’t do it for the money,” before offering either $50,000 or 250,000 to make it happen.   At the end of the conversation memorandum, written in Chang’s rapid black ball-point sprawl is the sentence “contact Jerry Bruckenheimer.”

These are things that most history professors, and full-time researchers of history, don’t deal with.  They move on to the next book, teach the next class, apply for the next grant.

They forget to call Jerry Bruckenheimer because they are too wrapped up in the secondary literature.

Chang took more of  a reporter’s approach to The Rape of Nanking.  She uses more David Bergamini than anyone else, and a few boxes of photocopies from relevant secondary works (like an advance copy of Herbert Bix’s Hirohito [chapters 13-17] and the promising book by Iritani The Wartime Psychology of the Japanese People) lie basically unannotated.  I didn’t find her copy of Bergamini.

One of my students mentioned that Iris Chang should have had a colloquy with Jung Chang.  I thought that might have been interesting indeed.

In a subsequent post I hope to reflect further on her own self-analysis in these writings.  Like a mostly-empty notebook entitled “Meetings With Japanese Peace Activists,” even in the blank spaces in these papers is gathered much, much food for thought.

Coda: More of my recent essays on recent Sino-Japanese relations, and Iris Chang, as reflected in the Chinese press and in the work of Japanese manga artists like Kobayshi Yoshinori can be accessed here.

Blogging from San Francisco

For the next few days, I’m in San Francisco (旧金山) primarily taking care of some research at Stanford University. Specifically, I am digging into the Iris Chang papers at the Hoover Institution Archives, and revisiting bacteriological warfare expert Sheldon Harris’ papers in the same bunker of information.

I anticipate meeting up with some colleagues and junior scholars, including a “Reservoir Dogs” style posse from the south Puget Sound (南普吉湾) looking into Japanese war crimes.

I have to admit that it is going to be a little strange going through the Iris Chang papers while her bronze bust, donated along with the documents, looks over my shoulder. If only I could share the experience with right-wing manga stylist Kobayashi Yoshinori!

But in the meantime there is much to absorb by way of sensory data in this fabulous city.

Powell & Geary Streets, San Francisco -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Powell & Geary Streets, San Francisco -- photo by Adam Cathcart

PRC Visa Office in San Francisco, in the heart of Japantown -- photo by Adam Cathcart

PRC Visa Office in San Francisco, in the heart of Japantown -- photo by Adam Cathcart