Reactions to my Chang/Kamen review

My review of Paula Kamen’s recent biography of Iris Chang was posted at just two days ago. Reader reaction has been fast and sometimes furious.

Judging by the scale and tone of responses to my review of Paula Kamen’s biography, Iris Chang’s memory still elicits exceptionally powerful emotions. Of all the many laudatory messages I received for my defense of Chang’s work (and my criticism of Kamen’s badly flawed biography), one stood out as perhaps the most gratifying reader’s letter I have ever received. “Your article was so accurate and a fair assessment of Kamen’s book,” wrote Ying-Ying Chang. A great compliment indeed given its source — for Ying-Ying Chang was Iris’s mother.

I have never been in touch with the Chang family before so I had to write my review without benefit of their insights. With Ying-Ying Chang’s permission, I can now reveal that the family have been deeply troubled by Kamen’s book and particularly by Kamen’s superficial treatment of the terrible — and still unexplained — last weeks of Iris Chang’s life.

At the other extreme I received some notably ill-tempered comments from one or two correspondents who take the Japanese establishment’s side in the Chang controversy. One message in particular illustrates the point and I have reproduced it in full below while withholding the correspondent’s name. The tone of this message surely requires no extended comment. I will merely record that the essays by James Leibold and David Askew recommended by this person  are the usual slippery sophistry of the bought-and-paid-for Japan watching establishment. If Iris Chang’s account of the Nanking massace was as inaccurate as Leibold and Askew want us to believe, why don’t they go beyond vague charges and give us an itemized list of errors? The best they can do is point to a single photograph that was allegedly faked. But the error here in the first instance was that of a noted Japanese professor who had used the photograph in an earlier book and whom Chang had every reason to trust. To be let down by one’s sources is not uncommon even for the best historians and it is no reason to throw blanket charges of inaccuracy at a woman whose work has held up remarkably well in the face of a highly organized effort to comb through it for the slightest inaccuracies. Leibold and Askew should hang their heads in shame for their part in the verbal lynching of a brave historian.

A reader in Tokyo wrote:
You have actually achieved with your latest article “Whatever Happened to Iris Chang?”, an astonishing mass exercise of pseudo-intellectual pathology, while escaping any accountability for your a-historical attempt at rehabilitating Chang’s charlatanism, and your laughable conspiratorial suggestion in regard to her death.
Iris Chang was a fraud and her book was one of the most successful & profitable emotional con-job of the 90’s. For any serious individual with either, an academic or a personal interest related to the Nanking massacre, Your article is beyond criticism, but not above the reach of cynical entertainment. It would be a considerable waste of time on my part, to point out every errors, blatant lies and sheer distortions that are disseminated within your article. Either you are an imbecile totally lacking any historical & academical perspective on the issue of the Naking massacre, or you are a barometer for agitprop trickery, with a particular agenda in mind. I shall end this rant on a positive note, I am fully aware that you are doing your best at stealing Iris Chang’s academic accomplishment…, you certainly have some entertainment value. Next time, please take an issue on which you probably have extensive understanding, like Black helicopters, New world order conspiracies and Alien abductions. Alex Jones is always looking for serious journalist like yourself.
“It is a pity. Chang was actually a more than averagely scrupulous fact-checker and in virtually all cases she had solid sources for what she wrote”.
At least you & Chang do share something in common.
“True, The Rape of Nanking was well written and Chang had added considerably to what was already known from the 1930s”.
Since her book was debunked by Western and Japanese academics, scholars and authorities on the Nanking massacre (but a 13 year old could have done the job…), your understanding of history pre and post 1930’s is subject to the wildest speculations….
“Yet, as the truly sickening photographs presented by Chang showed, the bestiality at Nanking was uniquely shocking”.
Especially since The Rape of Nanking is the height of grotesquerie full of countless fake photos….
Iris Chang and your ilk are providing ammunitions to those who claim that nothing ever happened in Nanking!.
Incase you actually want to learn something about the Nanking massacre.
Picking at the wound
by James Leibold
Lecturer in Politics and Asian Studies
The Nanjing Incident
Recent Research and Trends
by David Askew
Associate Professor

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