Iris Chang and the trauma of The Rape of Nanking
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 19:50 by Musgrove Jody
In December 1997, an unknown Chinese American author named Iris Chang published The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War Two. Her passionate but error strewn account of a sixty-year-old episode of Asian political violence was a spectacular success, with over half a million books sold. This thesis asks why. Why that piece of history; why that moment; and why that author and that book? It argues the most compelling answers to these questions are found if the situation is viewed through the paradigmatic lens of trauma. It therefore offers a theoretical reading of this important historical moment, utilising key theorist, Jeffrey C. Alexander’s social theory of cultural trauma. It examines parallel historical and social processes in China and the West – centred on trauma, representation and identity - which it argues Iris Chang connected so profoundly with her book. It claims that The Rape of Nanking is structured to utilise a framework of traumatic understanding constructed around the Holocaust, the defining trauma of the epoch. This allowed her narrative to be read and easily decoded by its audience in the now familiar register of trauma.