Iris Chang whose book “The Rape of Nanking” reached the New York Times Best Seller list when she was only 29 years old, was deep into research for her fourth book about the Bataan Death March, had a break with reality, and killed herself
Iris Shun-Ru Chang (March 28, 1968 – November 9, 2004) was an American historian and journalist. She is best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking. She committed suicide on November 9, 2004. Chang is the subject of the 2007 biography, Finding Iris Chang, and the 2007 documentary film Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking.
Depression and death
Chang suffered a nervous breakdown in August 2004, which her family, friends and doctors attributed in part to constant sleep deprivation and heavy doses of psychologically damaging prescription medication. At the time, she was several months into research for her fourth book, about the Bataan Death March. She was also promoting The Chinese in America. While en route to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where she planned to gain access to a “time capsule” of audio recordings from servicemen, she suffered an extreme bout of depression that left her unable to leave her hotel room in Louisville. A local veteran who was assisting her research helped her check into Norton Psychiatric Hospital in Louisville, where she was diagnosed with reactive psychosis, placed on heavy medication for three days and then released to her parents. After the release from the hospital, she continued to suffer from depression, side effects of several medications. Chang was also reportedly deeply disturbed by much of the subject matter of her research.
On November 9, 2004 at about 9 a.m., Chang was found dead in her car by a county water district employee on a rural road south of Los Gatos (California) and west of State Route 17, in Santa Clara County. Investigators concluded that Chang had shot herself through the mouth with a revolver. At the time of her death she had been taking the medications Depakote and Risperdal to stabilize her mood.
It was later discovered that she had left behind three suicide notes each dated November 8, 2004. “Statement of Iris Chang” stated:
I promise to get up and get out of the house every morning. I will stop by to visit my parents then go for a long walk. I will follow the doctor’s orders for medications. I promise not to hurt myself. I promise not to visit Web sites that talk about suicide.
The next note was a draft of the third:
When you believe you have a future, you think in terms of generations and years. When you do not, you live not just by the day — but by the minute. It is far better that you remember me as I was — in my heyday as a best-selling author — than the wild-eyed wreck who returned from Louisville… Each breath is becoming difficult for me to take — the anxiety can be compared to drowning in an open sea. I know that my actions will transfer some of this pain to others, indeed those who love me the most. Please forgive me.
The third note included:
There are aspects of my experience in Louisville that I will never understand. Deep down I suspect that you may have more answers about this than I do. I can never shake my belief that I was being recruited, and later persecuted, by forces more powerful than I could have imagined. Whether it was the CIA or some other organization I will never know. As long as I am alive, these forces will never stop hounding me.
Days before I left for Louisville I had a deep foreboding about my safety. I sensed suddenly threats to my own life: an eerie feeling that I was being followed in the streets, the white van parked outside my house, damaged mail arriving at my P.O. Box. I believe my detention at Norton Hospital was the government’s attempt to discredit me.
Reports said that news of her suicide hit the massacre survivor community in Nanjing hard. In tribute to Chang, the survivors held a service at the same time as her funeral, held at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Cupertino, California on November 12, 2004, at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. In 2005, the victims memorial hall in Nanjing, which collects documents, photos, and human remains from the massacre, added a wing dedicated to Chang.