In This Review

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
By Iris Chang
290 pp, Basic Books, 1997

Japan's main strategic concern in China after it had created a puppet state in Manchuria in the early 1930s was to protect it against a surprise attack from Russia. But when general war broke out between Japan and China in 1937, the Japanese General Staff argued that if Chiang Kai-shek's capital of Nanking fell, the Chinese Nationalist government would give in. Nanking was captured in December, and the willingness of army commanders to see this former center of anti-Japanese agitation punished led to one of the most brutal crimes in the long annals of wartime barbarity -- the "rape of Nanking," of which this book is the first comprehensive examination. The Japanese army not only looted and burned the defenseless city but carried out mass executions of prisoners of war and systematically raped, tortured, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians. Chang's account, based on extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, is utterly compelling yet, at the same time, in places unbearable to read. The author is at pains to emphasize that the massacre was a systematic effort designed to terrorize and carried out in full view of international observers, some of whom played heroic roles in trying to stop it. Far from a temporary lapse of military discipline, it lasted seven weeks. Chang concludes with an eloquent appeal to the Japanese government and people to face up to the truth about Japan's wartime government and, most important, to improve education of future generations of Japanese citizens about the massacre. These long-overdue steps are necessary, she says, if Japan is to deserve the respect of the international community.