The Dark Shadow of Suicide: Finding Iris Chang

“The spoken word vanished with the wind. Likewise, the unrecorded life disappears as if it never existed.”
― Iris Chang

It happened on a Monday morning in early November. Iris was driving her white Oldsmobile Alero towards East San Jose. She knew the area, most specifically, she knew where to purchase Civil War era pistol replicas as relics and avoid the usual 10-day waiting period with other guns. Iris was away from her home, her family, away from her 2-year-old son, Christopher.

She parked on a highway, waiting… On Tuesday morning, a county water employee found Iris’s head rested against the window. Her clothes were covered in blood; Iris Chang had placed the barrel between her lips, and fired. Iris Chang was 36 years-old. Iris Chang, a prominent Chinese-American author of the bestseller “The Rape of Nanking” chronicling the forgotten holocaust of the Second World War, when the Japanese army, tortured, raped, and murdered more than 300,000 Chinese.

Inspired by her family’s stories about their escape from the massacre, Iris immersed herself in a painstaking research that made her book so vivid and raw, Iris was a fierce advocate of social justice and civil rights. She wrote extensively about discrimination against Muslims and other immigrants to the New York Times, a bright mind, Iris was the voice of forgotten victims defying the Japanese government and criticism against her other publications; Her first one “Thread of the Silkworm” (1995), The second book “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997), and “The Chinese in America” (2003).

Iris had been suffering from Bipolar Disorder for a long time. While working on an extensive research in 2004 for her fourth book, depression took over and she suffered a nervous breakdown. She checked into a Psychiatric hospital for three days, although she was released to her parents, Iris afflictions due to depression would stay with her until that fateful day in November. There are theories over her mysterious death, some of them implicating Iris was a victim of political persecution rather  than a suicide. Whatever secrets could be revealed, her story combines a social consciousness that’s been long forgotten by witless causes of a mundane society.

She had an extraordinary mind and the passion of compiling the iniquitous atrocities of Nanking. To emerge in her life can be a frightened experience. Reading Iris’ work ignited something within my view of the literary world; in the sense of becoming one with your work, that it could kill you. Is this what happened to Iris Chang? One cannot create such hypothesis, since we know nothing of her personal life and we shouldn’t be the intruders for the sake of her family. This is what I have discovered: Iris Chang was a magnificent historian who wrote what she feared the most. “The Rape of Nanking” is a tremendous piece of history that should never be forgotten. Iris Chang should never be forgotten.


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