Iris Chang’s papers at the Hoover Institution Archives are a valuable resource for authors and filmmakers

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
2007 documentary Nanking
2007 documentary Nanking

Currently available for viewing online as a free Internet download (, the 2007 documentary Nanking investigates one of the most violent episodes in the period leading up to the outbreak of World War II, the Nanking Massacre. Using archival footage, interviews with both survivors and perpetrators of the violence, and staged readings of personal memoirs and correspondence, the film reconstructs in harrowing detail the atrocities committed against Chinese civilians and prisoners of wars in Nanking following the bombardment and occupation of the city by Japanese forces. Thousands of Chinese were killed in the six-week period extending from December 9, 1937, up to the middle of January 1938. The film also documents the efforts of a number of foreign residents in Nanking to save Chinese from the depredations of the Japanese army, which, in addition to killing and maiming civilians, mass raped Chinese women and girls.

The documentary is dedicated both to the victims of the massacre and to the memory of Iris Chang, the American writer whose best-selling book The Rape of Nanking reawakened interest in this disturbing subject. Published in 1997, Chang’s work brought the Nanking Massacre to public consciousness in the United States and elsewhere and made Chang a celebrity. She appeared on national television, including when she demanded a public apology for the Nanking Massacre from the then Japanese ambassador to the United States. She also extensively toured North American cities to promote her book; her appearances were often organized by local Chinese-American communities. Attacked by Japanese ultranationalists for raising the issue of the Nanking Massacre, Chang remained unflagging in her advocacy on behalf of its victims.

In 2004, Iris Chang tragically took her own life, at the age of 36. Before her death, she had authored another important work of history, The Chinese in America, published in 2004. When Chang was still alive, the Hoover Institution Archives acquired the research materials she used to prepare that book. The archives subsequently acquired the research materials Chang used to write The Rape of Nanking, along with many other documents relating to Chang’s life and career as a writer and speaker. Taken as a whole, the Iris Chang Papers in the archives constitute a substantial record of her work as a historian; they also highlight Chang’s role as a public figure, with extensive documentation of both the acclaim and the controversy that ensued on the publication of The Rape of Nanking.

Since her death, Iris Chang has been the subject of a biography (Paula Kamen, Finding Iris Chang, 2007) and a film dramatization of her efforts to raise awareness of the Nanking Massacre (Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking, 2007). Her life and work have been commemorated in China and the United States; in 2006 her parents established the Iris Chang Memorial Fund with the goal of “carrying out Iris Chang’s unfinished dreams and preserving her legacy.” The fund also sponsors an annual essay competition on the theme of pursuing historical truth in the hope of avoiding future atrocities.

Except for a portion of personal materials that remain closed, the Iris Chang Papers are open for use by researchers in the Hoover Institution Archives.