Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iris Chang 1968-2004

I haven't written anything here for a while, and I don't know what to write about. I've really been just busy with work and school; and this week I've come to the determination that I will have to approach my workplace with the offer of working less, if I am ever to complete this thesis. Instead of letting time continue to drift by, I will have to make some changes this week, that's for sure. But, that's not too interesting, so I'll write a little about my trip to the San Francisco Bay area, 2 weeks ago. That was just a few days to rest and enjoy the sights, but as usual, it turned into an exhausting whirlwind of doing all things possible in three days. One of my objectives however, since I was in the area, was to visit the grave of someone whom I'd never met, but was much aware of. Her name was Iris Chang, and she was a journalist and historian, who killed herself in 2004. I remember looking at the news on the Internet in the fall of 2004, and being just so shocked to read of her death, and how it had happened. I had become aware of her a few years before, as a scholar who would appear on shows like C-Span and Booknotes, and I was much impressed by her fierceness and fearlessness in confronting her topics, which included her work, “The Rape of Nanking”, the pre-WWII atrocity committed on the city of that name by the Japanese army, and her determination to both bring such forgotten events of history to light, and to gain an apology for what had happened at Nanking to the Chinese people. She once confronted the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. on television, with a demand for an apology, and she was just so determined and driven in her work for such a young person. To read, as a graduate student, that someone I had looked up to as a role model, had taken her life on a lonely dirt road not far from her home, by shooting herself in the mouth, was such a shock, and I still remember to this day how I had turned to my advisor and told him of her story, and what she had now done to herself. She had seemed to have it all: family, good-looking, smart, a sky-rocketing career, and yet she had done this, directly out of the blue. It was unsettling, a shock, it made one question one's self in some ways. More recently, I had read a biography on her, and the prevailing thought now is that she was suffering from bipolar depression, which no one really had caught on to until the very end of her life. This may well have been true, but my personal opinion in reading about her life, is that she was an extreme perfectionist (which in some cases may be a symptom of bipolar depression), who could no longer go on, with the world knowing that she had been committed to a mental hospital for a short time in the weeks before her suicide, and that was also suffering from this condition of bipolar depression. She had always presented the image of perfection to the world in everything that she did, and yet she wasn't perfect. That I think, she could not live with, and that, I think, is probably the saddest thing of all. Her ultimately distorted image of herself was so much harsher than anything the world was putting or would have put on her, or at least I would hope, and so she killed herself, when it just didn't have to happen.

Now, Iris Chang rests in the Gate of Heaven Catholic cemetery in Los Altos, California, near San Jose, although she was neither Catholic not Christian, but rather an atheist, or at least an agnostic, never really the religious sort. She lies on a gently sloping hill, overlooking a beautiful crystal pool of water further down the slope, with trees growing about as if in an Arcadian paradise, and with the gentle rolling hills of California behind her, looking down upon her grave. Her gravestone reads, “Iris Chang, Beloved Wife and Mother, Author and Historian, Human Rights Activist, 3.28.1968-11.9.2004. Her grave, with a small photo portrait, is as simple as any of the others all around her. At least now she rests in peace, eternally gazing over that beautiful lake pool of water from the slope further above. After being able to visit with her for a very short time, her unsettling story and departure from this world still a mystery in some ways, I think that now I too may have gained just a little more peace perhaps, in this world.


Blogger GC said...

I just read a similar post the other day about an Australian journalist who jumped to her death from a tall building.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

What are these people thinking? I read somewhere that suicide can be one (final) symptom of mental illness, so I guess that it's really crucial to reach such persons in time, if possible.

12:18 AM  
Blogger GC said...

Charmaine Dragun if you're at all curious.

12:53 PM  
Blogger willowtree said...

I think you could be on to something about the perfectionism. Also, after you mentioned her, I did read a few articles about her, and her life. I remember one of them saying that she was reasearching a book. If the subject was particularly depressing or haunting- more or equally depressing or haunting as the Rape of Nanking, that could really have had an effect on her mental well being. You know what it is like to get so caught up in writing, youve written for hours and had no idea where the hours went to. Maybe everything was just overwhelming for her. It's good that you were able to gain something from her, even after she was gone.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Thanks for the name of the Australian journalist, GC.

Willowtree, she was working on more gruesome material, U.S. veterans of the Bataan Death March, which was a particularly brutal event, so that certainly added to her existent issues, as well as being cumulative to her Rape of Nanking work. Although others have worked in these terrible fields; I guess it was just a combination of the material and her preexistent condition. My mother had a friend, who she described as 'perfect' in almost everyway, who took her own life, and it was so unexpected then, too. I guess it just goes to show...

11:38 AM  

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