Iris Chang

Iris Chang

Author, Historian, Journalist, Political Activist (1968-2004)

Iris Chang (張純如) was a Chinese American author, journalist, and human rights activist.  In her research, particularly in The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997), Chang made significant historical discoveries.

Chang’s The Rape of Nanking was the first comprehensive account of the 1937 Nanking massacre.  In this tragic chapter of World World II, Japanese soldiers destroyed what was then the capital of China and also raped, tortured, and murdered 300,000 Chinese civilians.  

Chang had grown up hearing stories about the Nanking massacre from her grandparents who had escaped the atrocity, but she could find no books about the subject.  Historical record had either omitted an account of the Nanking massacre and its brutality or denied it.  This, along with a sense of outrage, inspired Chang to write the history of the Rape of Nanking.  Chang’s seminal work ended up being a bestseller that remained on the New York Times Best Sellers list for ten weeks.  After publication of the book, Chang campaigned to persuade the Japanese government to apologize for its troops’ wartime conduct and to pay compensation. 

Chang’s other two books documented the experiences of the Chinese and Chinese Americans. Thread of the Silkworm (1995) tells the story of a Chinese professor and co-founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was accused of being a spy during the Red Scare of the 1950’s. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (2003) focuses on Chinese immigrants and their descendants in the United States.  Chang’s work is marked by extensive research and interviews that compassionately captured the emotions of her subjects. 

Chang was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, to two university professors who moved from China to Taiwan and eventually immigrated to the United States. Chang had a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from the writing program of Johns Hopkins University.  She committed suicide in Los Gatos at the age of 36.

During her short life, Chang was an outspoken advocate for the Chinese and Chinese Americans, often addressing dark and controversial topics.  Of The Rape of Nanking, Chang said, “I wrote it out of a sense of rage.  I didn’t really care if I made a cent from it. It was important to me that the world knew what happened in Nanking back in 1937.”  Iris Chang’s work shined a spotlight on a terrible moment in history and provided a voice for the many Chinese who were slaughtered, raped, tortured, and then forgotten.