China dedicates memorial hall to Urbana-born journalist, author

China dedicates memorial hall to Urbana-born journalist, author

A hall in China now memorializes the Urbana native who wrote a best-seller about Japanese atrocities there.

The Memorial Hall of Iris Chang, author of "The Rape of Nanking," is in her family's ancestral home of Huaian, in eastern Jiangsu Province. The hall is divided into six sections covering the life of the late author. It is the world's second memorial hall to mark the massacre.

Iris Chang was born in the United States in 1968, the daughter of two University of Illinois professors. Her second book, the first in decades about the massacre, was published in 1997 and was on the New York Times' best-seller list for 10 weeks.

Stressed by the reaction to that book and her efforts on a new one, she committed suicide in 2004.

Her mother praised the recognition for her daughter's work.

"The Memorial Hall is housed in a magnificent and elegant building which was modeled (on the) building style of the ancient Han Dynasty," said her mother, Ying-Ying Chang, an emerita professor of microbiology. "It took two years to finish the interior design and installation."

The professor is herself the author of "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond The Rape of Nanking," which covers how the Japanese atrocity fascinated and horrified her daughter, who graduated from the UI with a degree in journalism.

Iris Chang worked as a reporter for the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune before completing a graduate degree in writing from the Johns Hopkins University and moving on to books.

Her compassion compelled her to write about the atrocity, her mother said.

"It all began with a photo of a river choked with the bodies of hundreds of Chinese civilians that shook Iris to her core," said Ying-Ying Chang. "Who were these people? Why had this happened and how could their story have been lost to history? She could not shake that image from her head. She could not forget what she had seen."

Before she died, Iris Chang said that memories needed to be preserved for posterity, despite opposition from Japan.

"I want 'The Rape of Nanking' to penetrate into public consciousness. Unless we truly understand how these atrocities can happen, we can't be certain that it won't happen again," she wrote. "If the Japanese government doesn't reckon with the crimes of its wartime leaders, history is going to leave them as tainted as their ancestors. You can't blame this generation for what happened years ago, but you can blame them for not acknowledging these crimes."

She added, "Denial is an integral part of atrocity, and it's a natural part after a society has committed genocide. First you kill, and then the memory of killing is killed."

Iris Chang also wrote "Thread of the Silkworm" in 1995 and "The Chinese in America" in 2003.