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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A shocking and necessary book., 9 Jan 2006
This review is from: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (Paperback)
With the publication of this book, we have been given a chance to learn about one of the most gruesome episodes of the twentieth century. In the space of seven weeks from December 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army raped, killed, and tortured hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war and innocent civilians in Nanking (present-day Nanjing). Iris Chang details and analyses this event with passion, intelligence, style, and a sense of duty to the forgotten victims of Japanese barbarism.
The book is organised into three main sections; the first looks at source material of the Rape as it happened from Japanese, Chinese and Western perspectives. The second section is an analysis of such things as how the Rape was reported on at the time, how the Japanese who perpetrated these crimes were, or in some cases were not, punished, and what became of the survivors of the Rape. The third and final section looks at historiography; the ways in which 'history' is made. Chang also attempts to ascertain why a shocking level of selective amnesia seems to surround the Rape, in both Japan and the West. This reduction of the Rape to a mere footnote in most history books dealing with World War Two is what Chang calls 'a second Rape'.
'The Rape of Nanking' is not a light book, and it contains descriptions and pictures of acts so brutal and sordid that it is impossible not to be shocked. But rather than merely describe the events which took place, Chang also sets out clear and convincing arguments about why they took place and in this way she also offers insights into human nature. When faced, for example, with the apparently irreconcilable politeness of Japanese people with the brutality of their soldiers in Nanking, the author argues that politeness may actually be linked to brutality in a Japanese cultural context; Samurai were entitled to chop off a peasant's head if, when asked a question, the peasant did not answer in a way which the Samurai deemed polite enough. It is these immensely perceptive discussions which help make 'The Rape of Nanking' such an important and intellectually powerful book.
In a book crowded with the details of horror, Chang also details the heroic stories of people who, through amazing strength and determination, managed to survive the horrendous mental and physical pain of the Rape. Also interesting are the stories of people such as John Rabe, a Nazi Party Member resident in Nanking at the time of the Rape, who was the head of the committee which ran the Nanking Safety Zone. Dubbed by Chang to be the Schindler of China, Rabe is credited with helping to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chinese.
Ultimately, 'The Rape of Nanking' is about how, in Chang's own words "the veneer of civilisation seems to be exceedingly thin - one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war". The book ought to be read, because it will go some way to redress the lack of knowledge in the West about the Rape, but also because the event still impacts upon Sino-Japanese relations to this day. The Rape of Nanking is an event which we should learn about and never forget, and with this book, Chang has given us the opportunity to do so.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Aug 2011 10:53:20 BDT
R. Mayne says:
Interesting that this reviewer lives in China where virulant anti-Japanese sentiment is ramapant, -its probably easy to get carried away. I'm not denying that what the Japanese did was terrible, but percisely BECAUSE it was so terrible it deserves to be reported on accurately. Would you give 5 stars to a book which bodges the facts about the holocaust for example? I should hope not. Chang deserves praise for bringing this episode into the open, but she also deserves condemnation for sloppy scholarship.
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M. S. Bowden
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Location: Xiamen, China

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