November 13, 2004 by

Iris Chang


Categories: Writers/Editors

ichang.jpgIris Shun-Ru Chang, a best-selling author, historian and journalist, committed suicide on Nov. 9. She was 36.
Born in New Jersey, Chang grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., listening to stories of how her grandparents narrowly escaped the 1937 massacre in Nanking, China. But when she visited the local library to learn more, she couldn’t find any history books that detailed the event. In time, she would write one.
Chang earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois. She spent a summer interning with The Associated Press and a year working as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune before going back to school to obtain a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.
In 1995, Chang published her first book, “Thread of the Silkworm,” an unauthorized biography of Tsien Hsue-shen, the physicist who pioneered China’s missile program. Two years later, she achieved critical acclaim and commercial success with “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” a historical retelling of how Japanese soldiers raped, tortured and killed more than 300,000 Chinese civilians. Last year, she published “The Chinese in America,” which chronicled the history of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in the United States.
When she wasn’t writing, Chang gave lectures to human rights groups and university students interested in World War II history and the Asian-American experience. She made appearances on “Nightline,” “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” “Charlie Rose” and “Booknotes,” and received a Woman of the Year Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Chang was researching her fourth book when she experienced a mental breakdown. Although she was briefly hospitalized for depression, the condition worsened after her release. On Tuesday, Chang was found inside her car on a rural road south of Los Gatos, Calif., the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot. In a note to her family, Chang asked to be remembered as someone “engaged with life, committed to her causes, her writing and her family.”
She is survived by her husband, Brett Douglas, and their two-year-old son, Christopher.
[Update, June 2, 2006: An essay contest to raise awareness of the importance of remembering history has been named in honor of Iris Chang. The Iris Chang Memorial Essay Contest offers a $1,000 first prize. Deadline is July 31, 2006.]
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

47 Responses to Iris Chang


    I read about this only today on this website and
    must say I am quite shocked and saddened such
    a beautiful and talented lady had to go this way.
    Whatever her reason, I hope she will be free
    now from her preceding unhappiness.

  2. le

    a sorrow end to what has been a most talented and lovely woman that paid the ultimate price for all her difficult and very deeply painful work. she has endeared all that have know her..and of her. she helped all including me to know the depths to which mankind can sink unto. i wish her peace in her death as she had not unto this life…and now her pain has ended…

  3. le

    to a lovely young woman who changed the world and never once to let those responsible for atrocities and injustice to ever forget…i hope she finds the peace and solance that she never got in this life and she can now rest and leave the fight to the rest of us living now..

  4. andrew choy

    I love all her works and, as a childhood friend, I personally liked her. She’s the pride of all chinese-americans. The only thing I didn’t like about her was her marriage to a white guy, though I highly respected her personal decision.

  5. Kung

    Ms. Chang represented Truth, Hope, and Integrity to ALL races. She was a true gem and we were all priviledged and blessed to have known of her. As much as we all were against her final analysis of life, we will ALWAYS remember and protect what she had left us. Forever.

  6. E. Alfred Johnson

    Not to be a drag but she did commit suicide. WHat makes you think that in commiting a sin against life she will be allowed in to a happier place?
    Why do we forgive suicide so damned easily? What she did was cowardly and she has left her husband and son to suffer on in her absence.

  7. Frank Ringhofer

    Excuse me, this is for tributes, not insults. This last poster obviously knows nothing about depression and how it affects the way the mind works. Logic and perspective are the first things to go with the deadly disease. It is a psychological and emotional cancer. We don’t need any of that Catholic BS about sin and damnation on this site (and I’m Catholic). My heart goes out to Iris and her surviving family.

  8. Laurel Trost

    My brother committed the big ‘S’ on 2/25/99 and sometimes I miss him so much I can’t breath. What Ms. Chang did was selfish and not so easily forgivable, yet it is understandable. Depression can and is a very deadly disease. Unless you have lost someone so suicide you cannot possibly know what it feels like. She was so bright, talented & with a full life before her, just like my brother. I am very sorry for her loss & at least her young son has his father and relatives to help him in life with the tragic and final loss of his mother. While she walks in Heaven her work on Earth will at least live on forever!

  9. lee mae

    i love her so much , iris.
    first i recognize about her is she got same english name as mine. and during that my deepest deepresstion time i heard the news of her dead.
    i found sorry and later i keep myslef discover more about her about her story and wat happening in nanking.
    she gave me depress and understand the real situreation wat done to chinese people in the past decade.
    i love you iris. eventhough you not hear . but i think you shall know that i am thinking about you.

  10. fun ha

    my family is greatly saddened by such a grieve loss. we wish the best for her family, we loved her writings. she was so strong…which leaves us questioning, was it really suicide?

  11. shailendra

    she was right in her apporach, when she was living .then there is no reson to blame her for her final decision.yes i feel sorry but in a sertain mental condition she must have done it .alash she could share it with someone.

  12. Felipe Heredia

    LIstening to re-run interview on NPR in 1999. She was one on the worlds best young historians and authors. Life is too short, people usually give signs off before they kill themselves. We must be proactive and take the time to care and ask a loved one if they are ok. We are animals at our soul, we feel when something is not right. In the words of her husband, he noticed something was wrong.

  13. john rollo

    I first learned of the Rape of Nanking on the video series “World War II with Walter Cronkite”. The images were horrible and I wondered why we had not heard more about this. Chang’s book and her personal forthrightness in tv interviews made a courageous stand in illuminating this dark history. I was shocked to read of her suicide as I was only surfing the net to find out more about her. I know nothing of the investigation surrounding her death but is it possible she was killed?
    My sincere condolences go to her family.

  14. Anonymous

    The loss of Iris Chang is a loss for all Chinese. The loss of Iris Chang is a loss to academic scholarship…most importantly, the loss of Iris Chang is a loss of truth. It is difficult to believe that someone so passionate about the killings of Chinese people during the Second World War, would kill herself. It is difficult to believe that someone so committed to getting out the historical truth and uncovering lies would end her own life. Documented depression or not, information provided about her death are highly questionable. All great proponents of truths fall in their struggle to inspire awareness. I put Iris Chang in the same catagory as Martin Luther King Jr. His death wasn’t suicide, was hers? All Chinese, academic scholarship and truth are forever in debt to Iris Chang. May she always be remembered for her passion for causes, and may the struggle for truth be continued by others in her footsteps. Here’s paying tribute to the first.

  15. Gannon

    To Iris Chang- A real revolutionary and a brilliant mind. You changed my life and the lives of many others. You will forever be missed.

  16. janet

    She was an inspirational individual and her tragic and untimely death was something of a shock. When I first heard of her suicide, it seemed almost impossible. Why would someone so talented, bright, and full of promise in the years to come end her own life? It is understandable that, due to her immense depression, this could take place. It is such a shame and my condolences go out to all those who cared for her. May she finally rest in peace. She was a very brave woman who opened so many eyes. Let us hope that tragedies should not be forgotten, as she would have wanted it.

  17. iris

    it is such a shame for her to go this way. it’s hard to say anything about someone so great when you really didn’t know them. someday i hope to become such a successful writer as iris chang was. but looking at today i hope that her family and friends will remember that people out there still care and still think about her. with much condolence i hope the best of wishes to her husband, child, parents, friends, and everyone else who grieving with this terrible loss.
    “No one can be forgotten. they may be the most noble or the foulest of beings but they are always remembered no matter what their sitution or character.”

  18. Daniel

    Although I never met Iris Chang, I know she was a great person and will be missed by all. I hope she and her family has found peace.

  19. Peter Barbera

    Due to the traumatic experiences I endured from my Asian extended family, I too was severely depressed for three years ending August 2005. Thanks to Iris Chang I have recovered from my depression. Although, I never met Iris, I miss her very much. I know it was because of her work and experience that I was somehow possibly spirtually cured from my illness. I thank God for Iris Chang and I know she is praying for all those people who suffer needlessly from depression.

  20. Christina

    Because of her, I am still alive. I am 16. I have bipolar disorder. So many hospitals. I finally heard of Iris Chang. I was so happy I found someone who I considered understanding tho i never met her. My hopes were cut short when I learned she had taken her life, something I had been wanting to do for so long. I want to help continue her work. I am going to throw away my hopes of being a doctor and trade them for international law. because of Iris, I found a strength I never knew i had. She is my hero.

  21. Rob

    As an ABC,you must say Iris Chang was very very outstanding.Bruce lee was the Yang,and Iris Chang was the Yin.In each and every one the three books that she wrote,you can sense and feel her heart and blood.She did leave behind three notes before she died.Has anyone read her third note? She was either killed, or made to kill herself.May she find herself in The Pure Land.

  22. Jeisea

    I agree with Rob she’s killed or she’s made to kill herself. I’m wondering how that sickness of hers came to be. I must say sometimes we’re not fully aware of what is being done to us. There are lots of political underhanded people around.

  23. Michael Luckett

    I read in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine that she knew she was being followed by white CIA vans because she was getting to close to the truth about Nanking.

  24. Tham

    ” Not to be a drag but she did commit suicide. WHat
    makes you think that in commiting a sin against life
    she will be allowed in to a happier place?
    Why do we forgive suicide so damned easily? What
    she did was cowardly and she has left her husband
    and son to suffer on in her absence. ”
    Posted by E. Alfred Johnson on January 30, 2005
    12:31 PM
    You think you’d ever had the guts to kill yourself ?
    Let’s talk about REAL cowardice here.
    The bravest thing someone could ever do is to
    take his or her own life. Virtually everyone who
    says that suicide is “cowardly, a sin, she’ll burn in
    hell, etc etc and all that nonsense”, should take
    a hard look at HIMSELF and ask, TRUTHFULLY, if
    he’ll ever be to EVER find the courage to point the
    gun at his head and pull the trigger, or slash his
    own wrists. That easy, huh ? She doesn’t need
    your idiotic and meaningless “forgiveness” – who
    the hell are you to judge another person’s decision
    to kill himself ? And what difference does your
    hypocritic “forgiveness” mean anyway – is it going
    to bring her back ?
    You have only ONE life, man – and even if you
    believe in karma , etc., it’s just a faith – you think
    you’d DARE, or WANT, rather, to take that chance
    and find out if you’ll be born “free” again ?
    I also agree with the next poster that this totally
    naive guy knows nothing about the mental agony
    and hopelessness of depression. Life must be so
    easy and smooth for him, that he can’t just
    comprehend why someone would ever want to
    take his or her own life.

  25. Tham

    That said, I also agree she did not kill herself, but
    was made to look like she did it.
    With all those hornets’ nests stirred up by her book,
    there was bound to be a contract out on her, not least
    from the CIA, as the last poster hinted.

  26. Jun mei yang

    Since the film “Nan jing” coming,i recalled her again.and surf internet to find more about her.
    Since i am from Nan jing,i respect her more.because we never forget this hard times for all the chinese people…She speak for the justice….she is a hero..

  27. A Carr

    Somehow news of Iris Chang’s death escaped me. I was recently given The Devil of Nanking as a going away gift from a neighbor and saw the dedication to Iris Chang inside (I own The Rape of Nanking). I just looked her up on Wikipedia last night to find out that she committed suicide. I remember seeing the author on Book TV plugging her book prior to my trip to China in 1999. She was an passionate speaker. I remember how eloquently she spoke about the images and stories of Nanjing affecting her.

  28. barry martin

    God Bless her husband and child. I will always think that Iris was murdered by the KMT or Japanese royalist. Her books opened my eyes further. Her help to author Sterling Seagrave nailed her fate. The truth will not die with her. I just wished that some of our politicos had as much courage as she did—she will be revenged!

  29. Mark Koch

    Iris Chang, you had done a lot to fully expose the Nanjing Massacre happened 70 years ago. It’s a shame these atrocities had to be happened in the hands of Japanese. Some 300,000 Chinese people were brutally killed; about 100,000 women were raped in matter of 4 to 5 weeks. “The Rape of Nanjing” will be forgotten by all on this planet.
    Japan’s Prime Minister Abe had apologized for the atrocities, and let’s forgive those Japanese soldiers who had horrendously killed and raped the Chinese, but we’ll remember this terrible act forever.
    As for Iris Chang, I was wondering why you killed yourself. Was there an investigation? Depression can be cured. Just look around us — there are so many people in the world who are too poor to feed themselves, not mentioning a shelter over their heads. Oh Lord, help these peoples as you said even sparrows don’t have to worry about their livelihoods. Take care of them for they are really ignored by their governments. We pray for their safety not for today, but forever. We pray the leaders of the world can help these people without reservation.
    Commiting suicide in the eyes of God is not a good solution to any problem — be it health or finance. Just live one day at a time, and be happy. Try to help yourselves first before anybody can help you.
    Thank you God for opening my vision to see what I am. Thank you God for giving me the strength to continue living in this world. We ought to be happy every moment God give us.
    If you love thyself, be alert on what you will be doing so that you will not regret later.
    Best regards,

  30. Mark Koch

    As to the above message written by me, there was one typo erro I would like to correct here:
    It should have read like this:
    “The Rape of Nanjing will NOT be forgotten by all the peoples on this planet.”

  31. Mark Koch

    Could anyone tell us whether there was any police investigation of the Iris’ death?
    If there was, what was the outcome of the report?
    No matter what, the FBI should step in and reopen this case for a fresh investigation.
    Please advice us on this, FBI, wouldn’t you?

  32. Tom

    Such a beautiful person, Iris truly changed the world we live in. Just go out on the internet, she touched so many lives through her work and inspired the historian in all of us to seek out the truth, regardless of the consequences. I majored in History in college and actually recently started to study again. I saw “The Rape of Nanking” at the bookstore and did not know until recently that the author had died. I only wish I could have gone to one of her talks or met her in life. For even in death she remains a powerful inspiration not just to those of Chinese descent, but to all people. The fact that I am writing this is a testament to Iris. Tom Atlanta,GA

  33. PeterB

    Today would have been the 40th birthday of Iris. Happy Birthday! I thank her for everything she has done for me, as I was indeed, touched by an angel.

  34. Mr P Tripcony

    I also only found out today that Iris is Dead, One time she e-mailed me with info and help. I was quite amazed that she took time to e-mail me, I have a plight similar to Hers. RIP Iris. I am so sad.

  35. Jane Chu

    It’s really easy to judge. Human beings are naturally motivated to live. When one can not do so, it is probably because she or he is in the great pain that others can not understand unless you are in the same situation. I believe people have the rights to end their lives if they are in the unbearable pain. I think it is SELFISH for us to criticize her decision because of our SELFISH reason: we want our loved ones to live for us even when they are suffering.

  36. kLee

    as a Chinese American who still feel animosity toward what those bastard did to our country, Irish, you have kept us proud and we will never forget Nanking. One day, the table will turn……

  37. Shi Jie

    Iris Chang will be missed. She had a strong voice and stood up to her detractors. The idiots who post here and say that she was cowardly and selfish, haven’t a clue about mental illness.Their comments are boorish and self centered.They have no qualifications to pass judgment. May Iris have peace in the next world.

  38. mem

    Iris chang will never be forgotten. Winston Churchill said of John Foster Dulles” He’s the only bull who carried his own China Shop.”

  39. john kastelic


  40. Jennifer

    After her book, “The Rape of Nanking” was published, there were many harsh criticism about her work. Iris, I support you and your work will be praised forever. I don’t trust any government for any country. Iris was met by Hillary Clinton in the White House and I wonder what exactly their conversation was about and the purpose of Hillary to meet her.

  41. John

    I’m sorry Iris Chang died so young but her numbers were totally bogus: John Rabe said 50,000 to 60,000 dead at Nanking and investigated about 450 civilian deaths, less than 2 per cent women. Few of the rapes he described, bad as they were, involved torture. Chang’s figures are so utterly ridiculous — and her plagiarism from David Bergamini, an actual survivor of Japanese brutality — are so obvious that she wasn’t really a historial at all. She was a very angry young woman who did what she could to convince Americans that Japanese were “bad” so she could pose as “good.” By the way — how many Chinese were killed by other Chinese during World War II and the Communist takeover.? And how many Tibetans have been murdered, raped, or sterilized since the Chinese takeover.

  42. Steve von Maas

    I am thinking about the lovely Iris Chang today, and although I never met her, I miss her terribly. Her passing is such a great loss to America and to the world.
    Depression is brutal, and it is so sad that she suffered this hazard of her occupation, absorbing and contemplating and recounting so much suffering.
    My sincere condolences to Mr. Douglas and to young Christopher.

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