Iris Chang, the prominent Chinese American author and
journalist who fueled an international protest movement
against Japan with her incendiary best-selling book,
"The Rape of Nanking," was found dead from an apparent
self- inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said
Chang, 36, of San Jose was found in her car by a
commuter about 9 a.m. Tuesday on a rural road south of
Los Gatos, according to the Santa Clara County sheriff's
"I'm just shocked," said retired San Francisco Superior
Court Judge Lillian Sing, who was helping Chang with a
documentary on aging U.S. military veterans who had
suffered as POWs in Japanese captivity during World War
II. "She was a real woman warrior trying to fight
Stunned friends and colleagues sought to understand what
might have led to the suicide of an energetic and
passionate young woman who channeled her outrage over
Japanese war atrocities into a busy career of writing
and lecturing. Chang also wrote a history of China's
missile program and chronicled the Chinese experience in
Ignatius Ding, an activist who worked with Chang for
several years in seeking to have Japan acknowledge and
apology for atrocities it committed during World War II,
said Chang's current project videotaping the former U.S.
prisoners of war had been emotionally taxing for her.
"She was doing research recently in Kentucky and ran
into some problem," he said. "She got really upset, and
she flew home." Chang lived in San Jose with her
husband, Brett Douglas.
Ding, who heads the Cupertino-based Global Alliance for
Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, said he
did not know what kind of problem Chang might have
encountered or whether it was a factor in her death.
He noted that she "took things to heart" and usually
became emotionally involved in the tragic stories she
Chang's white 1999 Oldsmobile sedan was found on an
isolated private road west of Highway 17 near the Cats
Restaurant. She apparently had died from a single shot
from a handgun.
"There was evidence that was recovered that corroborated
and was consistent with a suicide,'' said sheriff's
spokesman Terrance Helm, who wouldn't disclose the
nature of the evidence or if there was a suicide note.
An autopsy is scheduled for today.
Her husband had filed a missing person's report with
police at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, saying he rose early to
find his wife missing and that she had been despondent,
said San Jose police Sgt. Steve Dixon. Her husband told
police he had last seen Chang at 2 a.m.
"She was passionate and articulate," said Ling-Chi Wang,
a faculty member in Asian American studies at UC
Berkeley. "It's shocking to lose such a young and
"It's a tragic loss," said Chronicle book editor Oscar
Villalon. "She was one of the most visible Chinese
American authors, who wrote a landmark book that brought
to the attention, at least among her American audience,
what was nonexistent as an issue."
Author of three books and many articles and columns,
Chang's most famous work was her controversial 1997
book, "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of
World War II," which described one of the war's worst
Japanese army troops massacred many Chinese in Nanjing
(then called Nanking) in late 1937 and early 1938, and
Chang not only believed that the horrible event was in
danger of being forgotten but also accused Japanese
society of collective denial about it.
Translated into many languages, her book galvanized a
redress movement in the United States. It was lauded in
the U.S. media, drew criticism from several U.S.
scholars on Japan and was vilified by right-wing
publications in Japan.
The book also propelled Chang into an international
spotlight. The year after it appeared, the Organization
of Chinese American Women named her National Woman of
She received honorary degrees and lectured widely at
universities, bookstores and conferences. She delivered
the commencement address at Cal State Hayward in June.
"She has been a real role model for young Chinese
Americans," Ding said, adding that Chang inspired many
to consider being authors and journalists.
"She was also well-respected in China," he said.
Wang said she was an important interpreter of the
Chinese American experience to the general public,
adding that in her book on Nanjing, "she has done more
than anybody to call attention to the outrage that took
Helen Zia, Bay Area author of "Asian American Dreams:
The Emergence of an American People," said Chang "wanted
to bring voices to the fore, the stories shunted aside
and ignored in history. This is a huge loss."
Andrew Horvat, Tokyo representative of the San
Francisco-based Asia Foundation, said that "there will
always be controversy over the accuracy and balance of
her writings" but that she "did raise a level of
consciousness that wasn't there before. ... In that
sense, I think her contribution was very positive."
Chang's most recent book, "The Chinese in America," was
named one of the best books of the year by The
Chronicle. Her first book, "Thread of the Silkworm,"
told the story of the Chinese scientist who guided the
development of China's Silkworm missile.
Born in Princeton, N.J., Chang grew up in
Champaign-Urbana, Ill., where her parents are professors
at the University of Illinois. Her grandparents' escape
from Nanjing fed her early interest in what happened
She received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the
University of Illinois and worked briefly as a reporter
for the Chicago Tribune and Associated Press before
entering a master's program at Johns Hopkins University
She appeared on the cover of Reader's Digest as well as
on many TV programs, including "Nightline" and "NewsHour
With Jim Lehrer," and she wrote for numerous
publications, including the New York Times and Newsweek.