The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking

by Ying-Ying Chang

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 28, 2024
The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking
The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking

Explore the powerful insights into the personal, professional, and psychological challenges faced by bestselling author Iris Chang while writing the acclaimed book "The Rape of Nanking." Discover how her family's support, research rigor, and determination shaped her literary journey. Get actionable takeaways to apply in your own creative pursuits.

What are the big ideas?

The Power of Personal History in Influencing Literary Careers

Iris Chang's intensely personal connection to her cultural and familial history deeply influenced her literary topics, especially her writings on the Sino-Japanese war and Chinese-Americans. This highlights the profound impact of personal background in shaping an author's thematic preoccupations and ambitions.

Navigating the Challenges of Literary Endorsement and Censorship

Chang confronted significant hurdles in publishing and promoting her work, particularly with 'The Rape of Nanking', as it faced political sensitivity in Japan. This underscores the delicate balance writers must maintain when tackling contentious historical topics and the external pressures that can influence publication success.

Balancing Motherhood with Professional Ambition

The narrative delves into Iris's struggle to balance the demands of motherhood with her professional goals, reflecting broader challenges many women face. This perspective is vital for understanding the trade-offs and emotional stress involved in striving for personal and professional fulfillment simultaneously.

The Psychological Cost of Writing on Traumatic Histories

Writing 'The Rape of Nanking' took a significant emotional toll on Iris, illustrating the often under-discussed psychological impact of engaging deeply with traumatic historical subjects. This insight reveals the personal sacrifices and mental health challenges that can accompany the process of historical documentation.

Role of Family Support in Creative Success

The unwavering support from Iris’s family played a crucial role in her writing and research endeavors, particularly during challenging times. This highlights the importance of a supportive personal network in the success and resilience of creative professionals.

Challenges of Factual Integrity in Historical Writing

Chang's meticulous research for her books exemplifies the rigorous challenges faced by authors in maintaining factual integrity, especially when documenting controversial or little-known historical events. This insight underscores the diligence required to produce historically accurate and impactful writing.

Want to read ebooks, websites, and other text 3X faster?

From a SwiftRead user:
Feels like I just discovered the equivalent of fire but for reading text. WOW, WOW, WOW. A must have for me, forever.

The Power of Personal History in Influencing Literary Careers

Iris Chang's personal history deeply shaped her literary career. Her cultural heritage and family background profoundly influenced the topics she chose to write about, especially her works on the Sino-Japanese war and Chinese-Americans. This demonstrates how an author's personal experiences can powerfully impact their thematic preoccupations and literary ambitions.

An author's life story often serves as the wellspring for their creative output. Iris Chang's intensely personal connection to her cultural identity and family history clearly directed the focus of her writings. Her desire to give voice to the forgotten sufferings of wartime atrocities, as well as to dispel stereotypes about Chinese-Americans, stemmed directly from her own lived experiences and sense of purpose.

An author's personal background is not just a biographical footnote - it can be a driving force that shapes the very substance of their literary work. Iris Chang's writings were imbued with a deep personal investment in uncovering historical truths and elevating marginalized narratives. Her literary career was thus inextricably linked to her individual identity and family heritage.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about how Iris Chang's personal history influenced her literary career:

  • Iris was deeply motivated to write an "honest history of Chinese America" to "dispel the offensive stereotypes" about Chinese-Americans in the media. This personal connection to her cultural heritage drove her to take on this ambitious project.

  • Iris spent extensive time researching primary sources and materials on Chinese-American history, visiting archives, libraries, and museums to thoroughly understand her people's past. Her personal obligation to accurately document this history fueled her dedication.

  • Iris's book on the Nanjing Massacre was a deeply personal endeavor, as she felt compelled to give voice to the "sufferings of those who had perished" and fight for "historical truth and social justice" regarding this wartime atrocity against her cultural group.

  • Iris's parents were described as her "greatest mentors, confidants, and friends" who "inspired [her] to never set limits" on her dreams. Her strong family support and encouragement shaped her ambition and determination as a writer.

  • Iris's grandmother's declining health and her family's visit to see her in New York were a personal motivation for Iris to complete her book on Chinese-American history, highlighting how her familial ties influenced her literary work.

Writers who tackle contentious historical topics often face significant external pressures that can influence the success of their work. This is exemplified by Iris Chang's experience in publishing and promoting her book "The Rape of Nanking".

Chang confronted a delicate balancing act as she navigated the political sensitivity surrounding her book, particularly in Japan. The Japanese ambassador publicly criticized the book, accusing it of containing "inaccurate descriptions and one-sided views". This sparked a heated debate and backlash, with Chang challenging the ambassador to a public televised debate to defend her work.

The episode underscores the challenges writers can face when their work touches on politically charged historical events. They must carefully manage the endorsement of their work by authorities, institutions, and the public, while also fending off attempts at censorship by those who seek to suppress the narrative. Maintaining this balance is crucial for the successful publication and promotion of their work.

Writers must be prepared to robustly defend the integrity and accuracy of their research in the face of such challenges. They need to be resilient and unwavering in their commitment to the truth, even when powerful forces seek to undermine or discredit their efforts. Navigating these obstacles requires exceptional skill, determination, and a steadfast belief in the importance of their work.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about the challenges Chang faced in publishing and promoting her work, particularly with 'The Rape of Nanking':

  • The Japanese ambassador to the U.S., Kunihiko Saito, openly criticized Chang's book 'The Rape of Nanking' as "containing many extremely inaccurate descriptions and one-sided views." This sparked a public controversy, with Chang challenging Saito to a televised debate, which he declined.

  • The Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia issued a strong statement denouncing the Japanese ambassador and urging the U.S. and Chinese governments to have him dismissed for his "distorting statement."

  • Basic Books, the publisher of 'The Rape of Nanking', also released a statement defending the book and its author against the ambassador's criticism. They noted the book's commercial success and upcoming publication in Japan.

  • There was speculation that the Japanese government was under pressure from ultranationalist groups to respond to "anti-Japanese" books like 'The Rape of Nanking', leading to the ambassador's public criticism.

  • A Japanese movie called 'Pride' that glorified a WWII Japanese war criminal was released around the same time, further highlighting the political sensitivity surrounding the historical events covered in Chang's book.

These examples illustrate the significant political and nationalist pressures Chang faced in publishing and promoting her work, particularly regarding the sensitive topic of the Nanking Massacre. The context underscores the delicate balance writers must maintain when tackling contentious historical topics.

Balancing Motherhood with Professional Ambition

The narrative highlights Iris's internal conflict between her roles as a mother and a professional writer. As a working woman, Iris grappled with the societal pressure to conform to traditional family values and be a "good mother." This pressure, combined with the physical and mental toll of writing her book, created significant emotional stress for Iris.

Iris's struggles reflect the broader challenge many women face in trying to balance motherhood and career ambition. The narrative suggests that in the 1960s, there were limited childcare resources and role models for professional women with children. Iris's own experience of feeling distracted at work while worrying about her daughter illustrates the internal conflict working mothers often face.

The narrative provides insight into how Iris and her husband navigated this challenge, such as by having Iris's mother come help with childcare. It also highlights Iris's own self-reflection on the trade-offs involved, as she debated whether to continue working part-time. This personal perspective underscores the emotional complexity of the work-life balance issue for women.

Overall, the narrative offers a nuanced look at the challenges and sacrifices inherent in Iris's attempt to excel both as a mother and as a professional writer. This insight is vital for understanding the broader societal pressures and internal struggles many women continue to face in pursuing their personal and career ambitions.

Here are examples from the context that illustrate Iris's struggle to balance motherhood and professional ambition:

  • Iris felt "trapped" because as a woman, she would have to "slow down to have babies" just as she was reaching the peak of her career and earning six-figure advances. This reflects the challenge of timing family and career.

  • Iris confessed to her mother on Mother's Day that she felt "caught between two arenas - to excel by her own merit and to excel as a woman married to a successful man." This highlights the internal conflict of wanting to achieve professionally while also fulfilling traditional family roles.

  • Iris's mother notes that Iris tried her best to be a "good mother" to her son Christopher, but her "time and energy were limited" due to her demanding writing career. This shows the difficulty of devoting sufficient time and attention to both motherhood and work.

  • When Iris was working part-time after having her daughter Iris, she "could not stop thinking about what was happening to her" and "wondered whether she had made the right choice" in returning to work. This illustrates the emotional strain and guilt working mothers can experience.

  • Iris's mother states that Iris became "preoccupied and somewhat absent-minded" after her book tour, likely due to the "tremendous pressure" of balancing her roles as mother and author. This highlights how the demands of professional ambition can take a toll on a woman's personal life.

The Psychological Cost of Writing on Traumatic Histories

Writing about traumatic historical events can take a significant emotional toll on authors. This insight reveals the personal sacrifices and mental health challenges that can accompany the process of historical documentation.

Iris experienced this firsthand while writing "The Rape of Nanking." She became numb to the atrocities she was researching, which negatively impacted her ability to write with the proper emotion. As an author delving into such a harrowing topic, Iris struggled to maintain her mental sensitivity and effectively convey the gravity of the events.

The psychological cost of engaging deeply with traumatic histories is often an under-discussed aspect of the writing process. Authors who choose to document these difficult subjects must be prepared to confront the emotional burden it can place on them. Preserving history is important work, but it can exact a heavy personal price.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the psychological cost of writing on traumatic histories:

  • Iris felt "numb" after reading "every instance of atrocities" in her research, causing her to lose the "mental sensitivity" needed to write with proper emotion. This illustrates how engaging deeply with traumatic subject matter can take an emotional toll.

  • Iris said she had to "read every instance of atrocities and felt numb in the end, and it came through stylistically." This directly shows how the trauma of the subject matter impacted her writing.

  • The context notes that "when an author loses his or her mental sensitivity, it is not possible to write with the proper emotion." This highlights how the psychological impact of the subject matter can undermine an author's ability to effectively convey the emotional weight of the events.

  • Iris was "doing more than one thing in 1996" - writing The Rape of Nanking while also working on another book proposal and helping with her previous book. The "stress to accomplish many things" contributed to the challenges she faced in crafting the initial draft.

  • The context states that the "story was so sad and depressing that it took an emotional toll on her as well." This directly acknowledges the psychological burden of engaging with such traumatic historical events.

Role of Family Support in Creative Success

The unwavering family support was instrumental in Iris's creative success. Her parents actively encouraged her writing passion from a young age, which gave her a profound sense of achievement and confidence. When Iris faced setbacks or struggles as a young writer, her family provided emotional comfort and practical guidance to help her stay focused and resilient.

For example, when Iris became distressed about the timing of her book projects coinciding with her biological clock, her parents reassured her and advised her to concentrate on her current important work. They reminded her that she had many ideas for future books, and that she should not get sidetracked. This steadfast support allowed Iris to maintain her creative momentum during challenging periods.

The family's involvement went beyond emotional backing. They physically assisted Iris during key milestones, such as helping her move into her college dorm. This hands-on support reinforced that her family was invested in her success. Overall, the unwavering encouragement and practical aid from Iris's loved ones were instrumental in enabling her to thrive as a writer and researcher.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about the role of family support in Iris's creative success:

  • Iris's parents, Shau-Jin and Ying-Ying, were deeply invested in Iris's writing and research endeavors. They provided unwavering emotional and practical support, such as:
    • Proofreading, translating, and providing invaluable feedback on Iris's manuscript for "The Rape of Nanking" book
    • Encouraging Iris to enter writing competitions from a young age, which helped nurture her passion for writing
    • Providing financial assistance when Iris faced financial strain as an independent writer
  • When Iris was preparing to travel to China for research, her parents gave her advice and a list of contacts to help ensure her safety and success, demonstrating their care and concern.
  • During a difficult time when Iris's father underwent heart surgery, Iris and her brother immediately flew in to support the family, showing the strong family bonds that provided strength during challenging circumstances.
  • Iris's parents fostered her intellectual curiosity from a young age, such as by introducing her to puzzles and encouraging her to learn multiple languages, which likely contributed to her academic and creative achievements.
  • Iris's parents' positive attitudes and encouragement towards her writing helped give her "a sense of achievement" and motivated her to continue on the path of literary writing.

These examples illustrate how Iris's family provided the emotional, practical, and intellectual support that enabled her to thrive as a writer and researcher, even in the face of personal and professional challenges.

Challenges of Factual Integrity in Historical Writing

Maintaining factual integrity is a paramount challenge for authors documenting controversial or little-known historical events. Meticulous research is essential to producing historically accurate and impactful writing. Authors must meticulously verify sources, cross-reference accounts, and rigorously fact-check to ensure the integrity of their work.

This diligence is especially crucial when tackling sensitive topics that may face pushback or denial from vested interests. Authors must be prepared to defend their findings and withstand scrutiny from critics seeking to discredit their work. Navigating this landscape requires unwavering commitment to the truth and a willingness to persevere in the face of resistance.

Ultimately, the ability to uphold factual integrity is what distinguishes impactful historical writing that shapes our understanding of the past. It is a mark of the author's dedication to uncovering the truth and sharing it with the world, no matter the obstacles. This insight underscores the vital role of the author as a custodian of history.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the challenges of factual integrity in historical writing:

  • Iris faced criticism from the Japanese ambassador to the U.S., Kunihiko Saito, who publicly accused her book "The Rape of Nanking" of containing "many extremely inaccurate descriptions and one-sided views." This highlights the scrutiny and pushback authors can face when documenting controversial historical events.

  • Iris was "outraged" by the ambassador's comments and challenged him to a public debate to defend the accuracy of her book. This shows the determination required by authors to stand up for the factual integrity of their work, especially when it challenges established narratives.

  • The context notes that the Japanese government was "under pressure from the ultranationalists to do something about" Iris's "anti-Japanese" book. This pressure from nationalist groups exemplifies the challenges authors can face in documenting historical atrocities, where powerful interests may seek to suppress or distort the truth.

  • Iris had to carefully navigate interviewing survivors of the Nanjing Massacre in China, as they were "reluctant to be interviewed" due to fears of "being in big trouble" for speaking with a foreign journalist. This highlights the difficulties authors can face in accessing primary sources and eyewitness accounts for sensitive historical events.

  • The extensive revisions Iris made to her manuscript, sending "no fewer than four or five different versions" to her publisher for feedback, demonstrates the meticulous fact-checking and editing required to ensure historical accuracy, even for an experienced writer.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking" that resonated with readers.

As the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.

When a tragedy is forgotten, its victims are denied the justice and recognition they deserve. It's as if their suffering and sacrifice are being erased from history, leaving them to die a second time in obscurity. By remembering and acknowledging past atrocities, we honor the victims and ensure that their experiences are not repeated.

Almost all people have this potential for evil, which would be unleashed only under certain dangerous social circumstances.

Human beings possess an inherent capacity for wickedness, which remains dormant until triggered by specific social conditions. When certain circumstances arise, this potential for evil can be unleashed, leading to devastating consequences. This concept highlights the importance of understanding the interplay between individual nature and societal factors in shaping human behavior.

Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin – one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.

Throughout history, all cultures and races have demonstrated the capacity for cruelty during times of war. The façade of civilization is fragile and can be easily shattered by the pressures of conflict, revealing a darker human nature. This somber reality suggests that no group is inherently more or less capable of atrocities, and that the line between civility and brutality is perilously thin.

Comprehension Questions

0 / 24

How well do you understand the key insights in "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can an author's cultural heritage and family background influence the subjects they choose to write about?
2. What role can an author's life story play in their creative output?
3. How does personal investment in a topic affect an author's dedication to their literary work?
4. What impact can strong family support have on an author's literary ambition?
5. What are the potential external pressures authors might face when addressing contentious historical topics?
6. How can authors defend their work against accusations of inaccuracy in politically sensitive subjects?
7. What strategies might writers use to manage both endorsements and attempts at censorship?
8. Why is resilience important for writers dealing with politically charged topics?
9. What are some of the societal challenges faced by women trying to manage both a career and motherhood?
10. How do professional and family responsibilities impact the emotional well-being of working mothers?
11. What are typical internal conflicts that mothers face when balancing career ambitions with family life?
12. In what ways do the demands of a professional career affect a mother's personal life?
13. What is the emotional impact on authors who write about traumatic historical events?
14. Why is it important for authors to be aware of the psychological costs when documenting traumatic histories?
15. How can the subject matter of traumatic histories affect an author's writing style?
16. What are the consequences of losing mental sensitivity for an author documenting history?
17. How does consistent emotional support from family impact an individual's career success?
18. What role does practical support from family play in handling significant life changes, such as moving for educational opportunities?
19. In what ways can family involvement in a person's creative projects enhance their chances of success?
20. What are the primary actions that authors need to take when writing about historical events to maintain accuracy?
21. Why is it important for authors to defend their findings when faced with criticism?
22. What challenges might an author face when documenting a controversial historical event?
23. How do authors ensure that their historical accounts are not influenced by external pressures?
24. What distinguishes impactful historical writing from other forms of writing?

Action Questions

0 / 9

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you explore and incorporate your cultural heritage or personal history into your creative projects?
2. In what ways can you use your personal experiences to advocate for social justice or historical awareness in your community?
3. How can individuals support authors who face censorship or backlash due to the contentious nature of their work?
4. How can individuals or organizations implement strategies to better support working mothers who are seeking to balance their careers with family responsibilities?
5. What approaches can be taken to mitigate the emotional stress and guilt often experienced by working mothers?
6. What strategies or support systems can individuals implement to manage and mitigate the emotional toll of engaging with traumatic material in their professional or personal endeavors?
7. How can you reinforce the importance of emotional support for family members pursuing creative projects?
8. How can diligent fact-checking of sources impact your own understanding of historical events?
9. What strategies can you employ to defend your views on controversial historical topics against scrutiny or criticism?

Chapter Notes

1. The Shock

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Iris Chang's Disappearance and Suicide Note: On November 9, 2004, Iris Chang, a 36-year-old author, disappeared from her home, leaving behind a suicide note addressed to her husband, parents, and brother. The note expressed her struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, indicating that she felt too weak to endure the "years of pain and agony ahead."

  • Iris's Recent Mental Health Struggles: In the weeks leading up to her disappearance, Iris had been severely depressed, often talking about not wanting to live anymore. She had recently returned from a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, where she had a nervous breakdown in her hotel room. She had been seeing psychiatrists and taking antipsychotic and antidepressant medications, but her condition had continued to deteriorate.

  • Frantic Search and Attempts to Find Iris: After receiving the suicide note, Iris's family members frantically searched for her, calling hotels, bookstores, and the police, but were unable to locate her. They also contacted the Golden Gate Bridge Patrol, as the note mentioned "drowning in an open sea," but no trace of Iris or her car was found.

  • Iris's Tragic Death: Late that night, Iris's husband and a police officer arrived at the family's home to inform them that Iris had been found dead, having shot herself in her car near Los Gatos, California.

  • Iris's Legacy and Impact: Iris Chang was the author of the bestselling book "The Rape of Nanking," which brought international attention to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. Her death shocked the world, and her funeral was attended by hundreds of people, including friends, supporters, and admirers. Tributes to Iris were made in the U.S. Congress and by prominent authors and journalists, who praised her work and her commitment to historical truth and social justice.

  • Purpose of the Biographical Memoir: The author, Iris's mother, explains that the purpose of this book is to provide a comprehensive and accurate portrait of Iris's life, including her family background, cultural heritage, motivations, and the tragic circumstances surrounding her death, in order to dispel the myths and rumors that had circulated in the media about her mental state.

2. The Birth

  • Iris's Birth and Early Life: Iris was born on March 28, 1968, in Princeton, New Jersey, to the authors, who were both postdoctoral researchers at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study. The authors describe Iris's birth, her early development, and the challenges they faced as new parents.

  • The Institute for Advanced Study: The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton is described as a unique place that supports pure research and original thinking, without the burden of teaching. It provided a nurturing environment for the authors, who were able to focus on their work.

  • Raising Iris: The authors decided to raise Iris bilingual, teaching her both English and Chinese. They also encouraged her cognitive development by exposing her to puzzles and allowing her to go through the crawling stage, which they believed was essential for normal brain development.

  • Societal Turmoil: The authors describe the chaotic events happening in the world around the time of Iris's birth, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. They express concerns about the kind of world Iris would grow up in.

  • Work-Life Balance: The author struggled with the decision to return to work part-time or stay at home as a full-time mother. She eventually found a compromise, working part-time with the help of a sitter and her mother's temporary visit.

  • Family and Cultural Influences: The author's mother, who came from Taiwan to help with Iris, provided valuable insights and support. The authors also discuss the influence of Chinese culture, particularly the concept of the "Chinese Phoenix" as a symbol of their hopes for their daughter's future.

3. Childhood

  • Childhood in Wartime China: The author was born in Chongqing, China in 1940, during the Sino-Japanese War. Her parents experienced the horrors of the Japanese bombings of Chongqing, including witnessing the destruction of hospitals and the deaths of many civilians. The author herself suffered from amoebic dysentery as a child, which was difficult to treat at the time due to the shortage of medical supplies.

  • Settling in Urbana-Champaign: The author's family moved to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois in 1969, where the author's husband, Shau-Jin, had accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois. The family initially rented a duplex and then bought their first house, which had a large backyard that the children enjoyed.

  • Raising Bilingual Children: The author and her husband were determined to teach their children, Iris and Michael, both English and Chinese. They established a Chinese language class on Saturdays for local Chinese-American children, using a innovative approach of teaching traditional Chinese characters along with the Pinyin phonetic system.

  • Sensitivity of Iris: The author describes her daughter Iris as a sensitive child, who was easily hurt by teasing from her classmates and had difficulty adjusting to new situations, such as the family's move to a new house and Iris starting at a new school. The author learned to approach Iris with patience and understanding.

  • Celebrating American Traditions: As the family settled in Urbana-Champaign, the author made efforts to celebrate American holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, even though they were not Christian. This was important to the author to help her children feel integrated into the local community.

  • Balancing Career and Family: The author struggled to balance her career as a research associate at the University of Illinois with her role as a mother. She took a break from work to focus on raising her children, but later returned to work when the family's financial situation required it.

  • Exposure to Diverse Cultures: Living in the academic community of Urbana-Champaign and spending time in Princeton and Europe exposed the family to people from diverse cultural backgrounds, which the author saw as beneficial for her children's development and worldview.

4. A Passion Emerges

  • Passion for Writing Emerges: Iris, the protagonist, developed a strong passion for writing during her childhood. She started writing poems, stories, and even her own newspaper at a young age, showcasing her talent and creativity.

  • Embracing Chinese Heritage: The family actively engaged in celebrating Chinese traditions and festivals, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year, exposing Iris and her brother to their cultural roots. This helped Iris develop a deep appreciation for her Chinese heritage.

  • Raising Silkworms: The family took on the tradition of raising silkworms, which fascinated Iris and Michael. This hands-on experience with the silkworm life cycle later inspired Iris's first book, "Thread of the Silkworm."

  • Parental Encouragement and Support: Iris's parents, especially her mother, were very supportive of her writing and creative endeavors. They actively encouraged her, read her work, and provided feedback, which further nurtured her passion for writing.

  • Exposure to Diverse Cultures: The family traveled to various places in the United States, exposing Iris and Michael to different landscapes and cultures, which likely influenced Iris's later interest in exploring diverse historical and cultural topics.

  • Family History and Roots: Iris developed a strong interest in her family's history and background, particularly the stories of her parents' experiences during the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. These stories would later inspire Iris's acclaimed book "The Rape of Nanking."

  • Sibling Relationship: Iris and her brother Michael had a close, yet competitive, sibling relationship, which was a common dynamic in their family. This relationship likely contributed to Iris's development and growth.

  • Transition to Biochemistry Research: The author, Iris's mother, transitioned from her initial research on SV40 virus to focusing on bacterial membrane lipids, which she found more fulfilling and aligned with her interests.

5. The High-School Days

  • Iris's Struggles in High School: Iris had a difficult time during her first couple of years at Uni High, facing conflicts with her friends, feeling insecure about her appearance, and struggling to fit in with her peers. However, she eventually overcame these challenges and grew more confident.

  • Iris's Love for Reading and Literature: Iris found solace and freedom in reading books, especially classics and science fiction. She spent a lot of her time reading and building a collection of secondhand books, even sacrificing her sleep to indulge in her passion.

  • Iris's Academic Strengths and Interests: Iris excelled in math and English, representing her class in math competitions and winning several awards. She also had a strong interest in computers and technology, participating in a computer club and working as a junior programmer.

  • Iris's Extracurricular Activities: Iris was actively involved in various extracurricular activities, such as reviving the school's literary magazine "Unique," volunteering as a Candy Striper at the local hospital, and participating in a senior debate.

  • Iris's Independence and Ambition: Iris was a highly independent and ambitious individual, setting her own goals and working hard to achieve them. She was not afraid to go against the crowd and hold her own views, even if it meant being perceived as a "loner" by her peers.

  • Iris's Family Relationships: Iris had a strong bond with her mother, who provided her with emotional support and encouragement during her high school years. The family also took several trips together, which Iris found enriching and influential in shaping her appreciation for nature and different cultures.

  • Iris's College Aspirations: Iris aspired to attend prestigious universities like Harvard or Stanford, but her high school counselor discouraged her from applying, citing her academic performance. However, Iris persisted and was ultimately accepted to several top-tier universities, including Cornell, the University of Chicago, and UC Berkeley, before choosing to attend the University of Illinois.

6. Standing Out in Crowds

  • Iris's Transition to College: Iris transitioned to college life at the University of Illinois in 1985, moving into a privately-owned high-rise building near campus. She quickly adapted to the freedom and diversity of the large university, enjoying the ability to meet many different people without being closely judged by her peers.

  • Iris's Academic Pursuits: Iris initially double-majored in mathematics and computer science, but later decided to transfer to the Journalism Department, following her passion for writing. This decision was supported by her parents, who encouraged her to pursue the subjects she was most interested in and passionate about.

  • Iris's Summer Internship at Microsystems: During the summer after her freshman year, Iris secured a summer internship at a computer company called Microsystems. This experience not only provided her with valuable work experience, but also allowed her to showcase her strong writing skills by improving the company's software manuals.

  • Iris's Involvement in Campus Activities: Iris was heavily involved in various campus activities, including founding a literary society and publishing a magazine called "Open Wide". She also competed for Homecoming Queen, which enhanced her confidence and desire for visibility.

  • Iris's Romantic Relationship with Brett: Iris developed a romantic relationship with an electrical engineering student named Brett Douglas during her senior year. Her parents welcomed Brett and were supportive of their relationship.

  • Iris's Journalism Career: Iris excelled as a writer for the campus newspaper, the Daily Illini, and also worked as a campus stringer for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. She was awarded a prestigious summer internship at Newsweek, which provided her with valuable industry experience.

  • Iris's Graduation and Post-College Plans: Iris graduated from the University of Illinois in 1989 and secured a job as an intern at the Associated Press in Chicago. She also wrote a chapter for a college guidebook, "Barron's Top 50", describing her positive experiences at the University of Illinois.

7. Fresh Out of College

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Iris's Involvement in the Tiananmen Square Protests: As a Chinese-American, Iris was deeply invested in the pro-democracy movement in China in 1989. She closely followed the events, including the student protests, hunger strikes, and the eventual violent crackdown by the Chinese government. This had a profound impact on Iris and her family.

  • Iris's Early Journalism Career: After graduating from college, Iris started working as a journalist, first for the Associated Press (AP) and then as an intern at the Chicago Tribune. She demonstrated strong writing skills and a passion for in-depth feature articles, particularly on scientific topics. However, she struggled with the fast-paced, hard news environment at the AP and the corporate culture at the Tribune.

  • Iris's Personality and Ambition: The chapter portrays Iris as a highly ambitious and independent individual who was impatient with the traditional corporate structure and hierarchy. She was not afraid to challenge her editors and stand up for her principles, even if it meant confronting her superiors. This led to some conflicts, but also showed her strong sense of ethics and desire for autonomy.

  • Family Dynamics and Support: Iris's parents, Shau-Jin and the narrator, provided a strong support system for Iris, both emotionally and financially. They encouraged her to become financially independent and develop her skills, while also respecting her autonomy in making major life decisions. The family also faced health challenges, such as the narrator's mother's cancer diagnosis, which added to the emotional strain.

  • Iris's Struggle to Find Her Path: After the Tribune internship did not lead to a full-time job, Iris was left feeling disappointed and unsure of her next steps. She took time to reflect on her career aspirations and the type of work environment she wanted, ultimately deciding to move back home to Urbana to "start over" and figure out her next move.

8. Starting Over at Twenty-Two

  • Iris's Transition to Graduate School: After losing her internship at the Chicago Tribune, Iris decided to return to school and pursue a master's degree in writing at Johns Hopkins University. She was determined to become a writer and was accepted into the prestigious MFA program.

  • Iris and Brett's Engagement: Iris and Brett had been dating since they met in 1988 and decided to get married in August 1991. The chapter describes the process of planning their wedding, including the bride's family taking the lead in the preparations.

  • Iris's Research Project on Tsien Hsue-shen: While at Johns Hopkins, Iris was presented with an opportunity to write a book about the Chinese-American scientist Tsien Hsue-shen, who had made significant contributions to the American space program but was later deported to China. This project became a major focus for Iris during her time at Johns Hopkins.

  • The Narrator's (Iris's Mother) Illness: The narrator, Iris's mother, suffered from a severe case of pseudomembranous colitis during the time leading up to Iris's wedding, which caused her significant physical and emotional distress. This illness made the wedding preparations more challenging for the family.

  • Iris's Determination and Focus on Her Goals: Throughout the chapter, Iris is portrayed as a driven and focused individual who is dedicated to her academic and professional pursuits. She is willing to make sacrifices, such as the year-long separation from Brett, to achieve her goals.

  • The Importance of Family and Cultural Traditions: The chapter highlights the significance of family and cultural traditions in the lives of Iris and her parents. The wedding ceremony, for example, is described as a "fairytale" event that was deeply meaningful to the family.

  • Iris's Observations and Sensitivity: Iris is depicted as a keen observer of her surroundings, particularly in her letters describing the diverse neighborhoods and social dynamics of Baltimore. This sensitivity and attention to detail foreshadow her potential as a writer.

9. Struggles of a Young Writer

  • Iris's Passion for Reading and Learning: Iris was an avid reader who constantly sought out new books and authors, including literary works by Nobel Prize winners. She saw reading as a way to expand her horizons and improve her writing.

  • Iris's Struggle with Finances: Despite her book deal and grant funding, Iris struggled to make ends meet, taking on various freelance and part-time jobs to support herself and her research. This financial strain caused her to become more materialistic and concerned about her reputation.

  • Iris's Dedication to her Book Project: Iris worked tirelessly on her book about Dr. Tsien, often working 50-100 hours per week, transcribing interviews, and conducting extensive research in the U.S. and China. She was determined to produce a high-quality, well-researched biography.

  • Iris's Evolving Writing Career: Alongside her work on the Tsien biography, Iris was already generating ideas for future book projects, ranging from the history of commuting in the U.S. to an epic novel set during the Sino-Japanese War. This demonstrated her ambition and prolific nature as a writer.

  • Family Milestones and Tragedies: The chapter covers significant events in Iris's family, including her father's passing and her mother's trip to Taiwan and China. These personal experiences likely shaped Iris's worldview and writing aspirations.

  • Iris's Relationships: The chapter highlights Iris's close relationships with her husband Brett, her parents, and her friends, as well as her interactions with her book agent and editor. These relationships provided both support and challenges as Iris navigated her writing career.

  • Iris's Transition to Adulthood: The chapter follows Iris's journey from a newlywed graduate student to a dedicated, ambitious writer, showcasing her personal and professional growth over the course of a few years.

10. The Photos that Changed Her Life

  • Iris's Decision to Write "The Rape of Nanking": In December 1994, Iris decided to write a book on the Nanking Massacre after attending a conference in Cupertino, California, where she saw disturbing photographs of the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in Nanking, China, in the 1930s. This event left a powerful impression on her, and she felt a moral obligation to write about it.

  • Iris's Research Trip to the East Coast: In January 1995, Iris spent five weeks on the East Coast, conducting extensive research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Yale Divinity School Library. She found a wealth of primary source material, including diaries, letters, and photographs from American missionaries, journalists, and military officers who witnessed the Nanking Massacre.

  • Iris's Encounter with Minnie Vautrin's Diary: During her research at the Yale Divinity School Library, Iris discovered the diary of Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary who had worked at Ginling Women's College in Nanking and saved thousands of Chinese women and children from rape and other crimes by Japanese soldiers. Iris was deeply moved by Vautrin's story and her eventual suicide, and she expressed a desire to publish Vautrin's diary in the future.

  • Iris's Trip to China and Taiwan: In July 1995, Iris traveled to China and Taiwan to interview survivors of the Nanking Massacre. She faced several challenges, including a difficult train journey to Nanjing, illness, and the difficulty of finding surviving witnesses. Despite these obstacles, Iris was able to conduct over 10 interviews with survivors, which provided valuable firsthand accounts for her book.

  • Concerns about Iris's Safety: After Iris's trip to China, she became concerned about her physical safety due to the sensitive nature of the Nanking Massacre and the potential backlash from Japanese nationalists who deny the event. She took steps to protect her identity and address, including moving to a new apartment and consulting with private detectives.

  • Iris's First Book Publication: In November 1995, Iris's first book, "Thread of the Silkworm," was published, and she held a successful book signing event in Urbana, Illinois. This was a significant milestone for Iris and her family, who had supported her throughout the writing and research process.

11. The Biological Clock

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Iris's Book Receives Widespread Critical Acclaim: Iris's book "Thread of the Silkworm" received positive reviews from major newspapers and scientific journals like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Nature, and Science. This helped establish Iris as a respected author in the literary community.

  • Iris's Ambition to Become a Famous, Best-Selling Author: Iris had a strong ambition to become a famous, best-selling author. She studied the writing styles of famous books and wanted to reach "immortality" through her writing. She was a voracious reader and movie buff, and had many ideas for future books.

  • Tension Between China and Taiwan: The tension between mainland China and Taiwan, including China's military exercises and missile tests, contributed to the widespread interest and media coverage of Iris's book on the life of Dr. Tsien, the father of China's missile program.

  • Iris's Struggle with Her Biological Clock: Iris felt that her biological clock, the time to have children, was in conflict with her ambition to be a successful author. She wanted to find a solution that would allow women to have both a family and a career without being hindered by their biology.

  • Iris's Proposal for a Book on the Biological Clock: Iris developed a book proposal titled "Turning Back the Biological Clock: The Fertility Revolution of the Next Millennium" to address the issue of women's biological clocks. However, the proposal was rejected by publishers, which was a significant blow to Iris.

  • Iris's Emotional Toll and Physical Exhaustion: Writing "The Rape of Nanking" took a significant emotional and physical toll on Iris, causing her to lose weight, lose hair, and have trouble sleeping. She felt caught between her ambition and her biological clock, which was causing her a great deal of stress and anxiety.

12. The Breakthrough

  • Discovery of John Rabe's Diary: Iris Chang discovered the diary of John Rabe, a German businessman who was the head of the local Nazi Party in Nanking during the Rape of Nanking in 1937-1938. Rabe's diary was a crucial piece of evidence that could refute the Japanese right-wing politicians' denial of the Rape of Nanking.

  • Tracking Down Rabe's Descendants: Iris spent a significant amount of time and effort tracking down Rabe's descendants, particularly his granddaughter Ursula Reinhardt, who had possession of Rabe's diary and other important documents related to the Rape of Nanking.

  • Donating Rabe's Diary: Iris and her family decided that the best way to ensure the safety of Rabe's diary was to have Reinhardt donate a copy of it to the Yale University Divinity School library, as well as to the Memorial Hall for the Victims of Japanese Invaders in Nanjing, China.

  • Iris's Emotional Toll: The process of researching and writing about the Rape of Nanking took a significant emotional toll on Iris. She experienced nightmares, weight loss, and hair loss due to the disturbing nature of the atrocities she was documenting.

  • Iris's Determination: Despite the emotional toll, Iris remained determined to write about the Rape of Nanking and give a voice to the victims who perished in the massacre. She viewed her work as a way to rescue the victims from oblivion.

  • Publicity and Conferences: As Iris's research on the Rape of Nanking progressed, she became increasingly involved in publicity and conferences related to the topic. She was invited to speak at a major conference on the Rape of Nanking at Stanford University and was interviewed by various media outlets, including the New York Times and Asahi Shimbun.

  • Timing of the Announcement: Iris and her family had to balance the timing of the announcement of the discovery of Rabe's diary with the publication of Iris's book on the Rape of Nanking. They ultimately decided to announce the discovery as soon as possible, rather than waiting until closer to the book's publication date.

13. Overcoming Obstacles

  • Overcoming Obstacles in Publishing: Iris Chang faced several obstacles in publishing her book "The Rape of Nanking", including revisions requested by her editor, the dissolution of her publisher Basic Books, and delays in publishing an excerpt in Newsweek magazine. Despite these challenges, she persevered and ultimately published the book.

  • Emotional Toll of the Subject Matter: The subject matter of the Nanking Massacre took an emotional toll on Iris as she researched and wrote the book. She felt numb after reading so many accounts of atrocities, which affected her writing style.

  • Importance of Family Support: Iris's parents, Shau-Jin and Ying-Ying, provided invaluable support throughout the writing and publishing process, including proofreading, translating Chinese materials, and offering feedback and encouragement.

  • Grief and Guilt over Losing a Parent: Ying-Ying experienced deep grief and guilt after the passing of her mother, Iris's grandmother. She struggled with the regret of not spending more time with her mother in her final days.

  • Iris's Ambition and Drive: Iris was highly ambitious and driven to become a world-famous writer. She was determined to leave her mark in the literary world and pursue her full potential, even in the face of criticism from some who saw her ambition as "individualistic".

  • Importance of the Book's Publication Timing: Iris and her publisher wanted the book to be published on the 60th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre to maximize publicity and attention for the book.

  • Challenges of Being an Independent Writer: Iris faced financial and time constraints as an independent writer, which led her to consider taking on a regular job to supplement her income, though her family encouraged her to continue her writing career.

  • Significance of the Newsweek Excerpt: The publication of the book excerpt in Newsweek magazine was a crucial step in generating awareness and interest in "The Rape of Nanking", despite the delays and concerns about potential pressure from Japanese advertisers.

14. Becoming a Celebrity

  • Iris Chang's Book Tour and Publicity: Iris Chang embarked on a book-signing tour for her second book, "The Rape of Nanking," which was her first major book tour. She received many invitations from university student organizations and Chinese communities in the U.S. and Canada who were eager to hear her story. Her book tour included stops at various universities and bookstores, where she was well-received and her book often sold out quickly.

  • Controversy at Princeton University: At a conference at Princeton University, the well-known revisionist Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata spoke and asserted that the death toll in Nanking claimed by the Chinese could not be trusted. This sparked a heated debate and controversy, but Iris was able to defend her position and win over the audience with her eloquence and tenacity.

  • Iris Chang's Media Appearances: Iris was featured on several major media outlets, including Newsweek, ABC's Good Morning America, and Ted Koppel's Nightline program. These appearances helped to raise awareness of her book and the Nanking Massacre.

  • The Rape of Nanking Becomes a Best-Seller: Iris's book, "The Rape of Nanking," unexpectedly became a New York Times best-seller in January 1998, which was a remarkable achievement for a young Chinese-American author. The book's success was attributed to several factors, including the lack of awareness of the Nanking Massacre in the West, the growing importance of China on the global stage, and the support of Chinese-American and Chinese-Canadian activists.

  • Iris Chang's Passion and Dedication: Throughout the book tour and the success of her book, Iris Chang demonstrated a deep passion and dedication to uncovering the truth about the Nanking Massacre and ensuring that it was not forgotten. Her eloquence, tenacity, and commitment to historical truth and social justice resonated with readers and contributed to the book's success.

15. A Roller-Coaster Life

  • Iris Chang's Book Becomes a Bestseller: Iris Chang's book "The Rape of Nanking" became a New York Times bestseller, generating enormous interest and awareness among Chinese-Americans and the general public about the forgotten history of World War II in Asia. This success led to a book tour with numerous book signings and media interviews.

  • Grassroots Efforts to Promote the Book: Chinese-American organizations, such as the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, actively promoted Iris's book by encouraging their members to support it and donate copies to public libraries.

  • Criticism from the Japanese Government: The Japanese ambassador to the U.S. publicly criticized Iris's book as "one-sided and erroneous," leading to a public debate between Iris and the ambassador on PBS's NewsHour. This sparked a larger controversy over Japan's acknowledgment of its wartime atrocities.

  • Emotional Toll of the Book Tour: While Iris's book tour was a success, it took a significant emotional toll on her. She was overwhelmed by the personal stories of suffering shared by Asian-Americans at her book signings and felt emotionally drained.

  • Challenges with the Japanese Translation: Iris faced significant challenges in getting her book translated and published in Japan. The Japanese publisher, Kashiwashobo, faced pressure from right-wing nationalist groups and ultimately canceled the publication of the Japanese edition, instead proposing to release a supplementary volume challenging the content of Iris's book.

  • Iris's Transformation from Unrecognized to Celebrated: Iris's journey from an unrecognized high school student to a celebrated author of a New York Times bestseller was a remarkable transformation. Her success was the result of her hard work, determination, and conviction in bringing attention to the forgotten history of the Nanking Massacre.

  • Iris's Advocacy and Activism: Iris's book was perceived by many as a political movement, with some seeing her as a crusader or activist for the cause of acknowledging and addressing Japan's wartime atrocities. This added to the emotional and psychological burden she faced during her book tour.

16. Research on Chinese in America

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Iris's Motivation for Writing "The Chinese in America": Iris was inspired to write a comprehensive history of the Chinese in America after encountering vibrant Chinese-American communities during her book tour for "The Rape of Nanking". She felt a personal obligation to dispel offensive stereotypes about Chinese-Americans that had permeated the media.

  • Iris's Research Process: Iris spent several years thoroughly researching the topic, visiting archives, libraries, and museums, and collecting personal stories and materials from Chinese-American communities. She hired a student researcher to help her organize the vast amount of information she gathered.

  • Challenges and Controversies: Iris faced challenges and controversies during her research, including the dispute over the Japanese translation of "The Rape of Nanking" and the accusations against scientist Tsien Hsue-shen in the Cox report, which she felt were unfair and lacked evidence.

  • Importance of Historical Accuracy and Honesty: Iris strongly believed in the importance of historical accuracy and honesty, especially when it came to representing minority groups like Asian-Americans. She criticized the media and government for perpetuating stereotypes and making unsubstantiated claims.

  • Personal Connections and Motivations: Iris wanted to preserve the history and experiences of Chinese immigrants, including her own family's story, to ensure that their lives and contributions were not forgotten. She saw writing as a way to maintain "checks and balances to power" and prevent historical amnesia that could lead to human rights abuses.

  • Iris's Writing Process and Dedication: Iris was deeply committed to her writing, often working long hours and declining public appearances to focus on completing "The Chinese in America". She reminded herself to write as if she had limited time, driven by a desire to preserve history and honor the experiences of Chinese-Americans.

17. Struggles for a Baby and a Movie

  • Iris's Struggle with Infertility: Iris and her husband Brett had been trying to have a baby for the past two years without success. After extensive medical tests, they discovered that they were "immunity-incompatible", meaning Iris's body would reject the embryo as a foreign entity, resulting in repeated miscarriages. The doctor recommended either immune therapy or surrogacy as options to have a child.

  • Iris's Efforts to Adapt "The Rape of Nanking" into a Movie: Iris had been working for over a year to get the movie rights for her book "The Rape of Nanking" sold to a Hollywood production firm. She had specific ideas about how she wanted the movie to be adapted, including featuring characters from different ethnic groups (American, German, Chinese, and Japanese) to show the contrast of human behavior during wartime.

  • Iris's Progress on "The Chinese in America": While dealing with her infertility issues and the movie project, Iris was also steadily working on her next book "The Chinese in America". By the end of 2001, she had finished the first draft of the manuscript, which her editor at Viking was very impressed with.

  • Iris's Advocacy for Human Rights and Historical Justice: Iris remained actively involved in various human rights causes, such as pushing for the declassification of documents related to Japanese war crimes during WWII, and speaking out against racism and discrimination towards Asian Americans, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

  • Shau-Jin and Ying-Ying's Retirement and Move to Hong Kong: After retiring from the University of Illinois, Shau-Jin and Ying-Ying spent half a year in Hong Kong, where Shau-Jin taught at the City University of Hong Kong. This trip allowed them to revisit the city where they had briefly lived in the 1950s.

  • Iris's Supportive Family: Throughout her struggles and achievements, Iris's parents Shau-Jin and Ying-Ying provided emotional support and practical assistance, such as helping with Iris's surrogacy process and research for her book. The family's close-knit relationship is evident in their frequent communication and willingness to help each other.

18. A New Book and a Son

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Iris's Involvement in the Surrogate Pregnancy: Iris was deeply involved in the surrogate pregnancy, constantly updating the family on the surrogate's progress, maintaining a close relationship with the surrogate and her family, and doing everything to make the surrogate comfortable.

  • Iris's Book Revisions and House-Hunting: Iris was working hard on revising her book manuscript while also actively searching for a new house to buy before the baby's arrival. She was racing against the clock to finish the book revisions and prepare for the baby.

  • Birth of Christopher: Iris and Brett's son, Christopher Joseph Chang Douglas, was born on August 31, 2002 via surrogacy. The family gathered to support Iris and help care for the newborn baby.

  • Iris's Concerns about Balancing Career and Motherhood: Iris expressed fears about not being able to accomplish all her life goals, such as writing books and working on other projects, while also being a mother. Her parents advised her not to put too much pressure on herself.

  • Ling-Ling's Terminal Illness and the Family's Move to California: Iris's aunt, Ling-Ling, was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, which was difficult for the family. Around this time, Iris's parents also sold their house in Illinois and moved to California to be closer to Iris and her family.

  • Iris's Book Tour and Continued Career Pursuits: After the publication of Iris's book "The Chinese in America", she embarked on a month-long book tour across the country. During this time, Iris's parents and nanny helped care for Christopher. Iris continued to be actively involved in various book-related events and projects, including a movie adaptation of "The Rape of Nanking".

  • Iris's Perspective on Balancing Career and Family: Iris expressed her belief in being a strong role model for her son, teaching him to think independently and be part of the "critical minority" rather than the "unquestioning majority". She saw her career pursuits as integral to shaping her son's values and development.

19. The Breakdown

  • Iris's Grueling Book Tour: In the spring of 2004, Iris embarked on a grueling book tour for the paperback edition of her book "The Chinese in America". The tour involved traveling to around 20 cities and 35 events over a 5-week period, which was an extremely demanding schedule even for someone in peak physical and mental condition.

  • Potential Threat During the Book Tour: During the book tour, Iris disclosed to her family that she had been threatened by someone at one of the events, who told her "You would be safer if you joined our organization." This incident made Iris increasingly fearful and paranoid, though the details were never fully clarified.

  • Concerns about Christopher's Development: Around this time, Iris became increasingly concerned about her son Christopher's development, suspecting that he might have signs of autism. This led her to do extensive research on autism and the potential link to childhood vaccines, which she believed were the cause.

  • Iris's Deteriorating Mental and Physical Health: In the months leading up to her suicide, Iris's mental and physical health visibly deteriorated. She experienced severe sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, and increasing anxiety and paranoia, which culminated in a "brief reactive psychosis" episode during a trip to Kentucky.

  • Hospitalization and Psychiatric Diagnosis: After the episode in Kentucky, Iris was hospitalized in the psychiatric unit, where she was diagnosed with a possible onset of bipolar disorder. She was prescribed the antipsychotic medication Risperdal, which caused significant side effects upon her return home.

  • Family's Attempts to Intervene: Iris's family, including her mother and husband, tried to intervene and prevent Iris from undertaking the demanding book tour and trip to Kentucky, sensing that she was in a fragile state. However, Iris was determined to fulfill her commitments, and the family ultimately deferred to her wishes.

  • Unresolved Questions and Lingering Concerns: Even after Iris's hospitalization, her family remained unsure about the exact nature of the threats she had perceived during the book tour, and whether they were real or a product of her deteriorating mental state. This left lingering questions and concerns about the factors that may have contributed to her eventual suicide.

20. An Untimely Death

  • Iris's Mental Health Decline: Iris experienced a mental health breakdown during a book tour in Louisville, Kentucky, which led to her hospitalization. After returning home, she continued to struggle with depression, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts, which were exacerbated by the side effects of the psychiatric medications she was prescribed (Risperdal, Abilify, and Celexa).

  • Difficulty Finding Appropriate Psychiatric Care: The family faced challenges in finding a qualified psychiatrist who could properly diagnose and treat Iris's condition. Many of the psychiatrists covered by the family's health insurance were not accepting new patients or specialized in electroconvulsive therapy, which Iris was strongly opposed to.

  • Iris's Paranoia and Fears: Iris became increasingly paranoid, believing that someone was trying to harm her and her family. She expressed concerns about being "recruited" by an unknown organization during her book tour, which added to her mental distress.

  • Separation of Iris's Son, Christopher: Fearing for Christopher's safety, Iris agreed to have him move to Illinois to live with her brother Ken and sister-in-law Luann. This separation from her son was deeply distressing for Iris.

  • Ineffective Medication Management: The various psychiatric medications prescribed for Iris (Risperdal, Abilify, Celexa) had significant side effects, including excessive drowsiness and agitation, which further exacerbated her mental state. The family was not aware of the potential for these medications to increase the risk of suicide.

  • Iris's Attempted Suicide: On September 21, Iris went missing for several hours and was later found to have checked into a hotel, where she had contemplated suicide by taking sleeping pills and vodka. This incident was a turning point, indicating the severity of Iris's mental health crisis.

  • Iris's Deterioration and Final Weeks: In the final weeks of her life, Iris became increasingly withdrawn and avoided her family members. She began researching information about guns and suicide, which alarmed her family, but they were unable to intervene effectively to prevent her from taking her own life.

  • Iris's Legacy: Despite her tragic end, Iris's life was marked by her passion, dedication, and commitment to preserving historical truth and seeking justice for the voiceless. Her work and legacy continue to inspire and illuminate.


What do you think of "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking"? Share your thoughts with the community below.