Welcome to Toisan Pride

Toisanese (Hoisanese is the REAL pronunciation; and Mandarin speakers call it "Taishan" or Taishanese") were among the first Chinese-Cantonese immigrants to hail to the United States from the Guangdong/Guangzhou Province of Southern China in the Pearl River Delta, west of Hong Kong.

Many Hoisanese immigrants came to the U.S. starting in the 19th century to help build railroads, and eventually stayed to establish laundromats, restaurants, etc. and worked hard to build a better future for their families. Some famous Hoisan folks include: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Chef Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook); Hawaii Senator Hiram Fong, Hong Kong Martial Artist Donnie Yen (star of IP MAN), Actor James Hong, Former California Treasurer Matt Fong; Actress Anna May Wong. For more Toisan/Taishan background history, click on Wikipedia.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Some day, I plan on updating it but Blogger isn't the greatest with blog templates so I appreciate your patience! I welcome comments, stories, photos, Toisanese/Say-Yip history, anything about our wonderful people to toisangirl@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whatever Happened to Iris Chang?

I met international best-selling author Iris Chang in 1998-99 when I was working for a PR firm called Nakatomi and Associates in Santa Monica (and yes, we often got calls about being the "Nakatomi Building" in the movie "Die Hard."  I helped stage a book signing press event in Los Angeles for Iris at the new California Science Center and was eager to meet her (I was impressed with her credentials as an author and writer, plus the fact that she was Chinese American, like me).  I admired her success.

Iris Chang had written the controversial best-selling book titled “The Rape of Nanking,” which documented the atrocities that the Japanese Imperial Army committed against the Chinese in Nanking, China. When I met her, she seemed reserved yet pleasant. She sported a slightly outdated school-girl look with her long black hair pinned up by a barrette. When I mentioned my interest in writing a book someday, she implored, “You really SHOULD write your book.” She went on to talk about different fellowships to support myself as a writer. I appreciated her encouragement but shrugged it off thinking “I'm not a REAL writer like her.”

The press event was a success with nearly every L.A.-based Chinese news reporter showing up to interview Iris. She seemed pleased. As we were wrapping up and she was getting ready to leave, Iris exclaimed “Where is my book? That reporter stole my book!” She scoured around the tables and said the reporter had taken her Rape of Nanking book. That seemed to be a telltale sign of her paranoia, which only spiraled downward many years later. The event director and I tried to calm her down and I said she probably confused my signed copy as being her book left on the table. A few minutes later, she still wasn’t convinced and reluctantly went home empty-handed. That was the first and last time I saw her.

A few years ago, after I had moved to Oahu, I thought of Iris and decided to look for her online. I was shocked to read that she had committed suicide in 2004 with a gunshot to her mouth. She was found dead in her 1999 Oldsmobile by a passerby on the side of the road south of Las Gatos, Calif.  Iris left behind a 2-year old baby boy and college sweetheart husband. News of her death was a deep shock to me, it sent a hollow feeling through my body. I felt abandoned and utterly sad at the loss of someone so talented, unafraid to speak up and give a voice to others; Iris, a Chinese American, a woman, whom I could identify with, who had so much going for her. Why did she do this?  Why had she felt driven to end her life and leave behind a young baby who would never know his mother? Iris was 36 years old when she killed herself. She and I were born in the same year of the Monkey, just a few months apart.

I still have Iris Chang's signed copy of The Rape of Nanking on my dresser.  She signed the front title page "To Nancy, The world must know."  I have yet to read it because frankly, I can't bring myself to read about the disturbing massacre. I know that this tragic event in history occurred, but it's one thing to dive into all the gory images and stories of rape, torture and mutilation. I can't imagine what it was like for her to rifle through piles of research into the horrific details of the Nanking Massacre, without becoming emotionally distraught or overwhelmed.

Excerpts from Iris Chang's suicide notes:
"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. Forgive me because I cannot forgive myself." 

IRIS, I'm glad to have met you - may you rest in peace and know that you made a difference in this world with your words.  


  1. The San Francisco Chronicle did a detailed story about Iris Chang, http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-04-17/living/17370834_1_iris-chang-car-seat-driver-s-seat

    What I appreciate is the openness of the family about Iris Chang's struggles with depression, later I seem to recall an article in the Rafu Shimpo, the Japanese American newspaper in Los Angeles, where the family discussed the need to acknowledge mental illness within the Asian Pacific American community.

    Toisan Girl, you again do a marvelous personal reflection on the life and times of Iris Chang, an outstanding historian and author. You'd do well to honor her memory by writing that book you've thought about over the years.

  2. I was an Iris Chang fan as well but never got to meet her. How tragic her death was!

  3. I read "Rape of Nanking" several years ago. I was deeply moved, by the tragedy.

    Thank you Iris, for making sure we never forget.

  4. You should read it. Definitely. If you want to make it a bit easier, you can read some account of atrocities in North Korean Gulags. I read her book recently but I had read about bad things happening for years before.

    There was an biography written about her in 2007.

  5. Anonymous4.2.12

    I have read both, "Thread of the Silkworm" (The definitive biography of Tsien Hsue-Shen) and "Raping of Nanking". It sadden me to know she paid a heavy price in the writing of the sacrifices of our people. I have yet to read her “The Chinese in America: A Narrative History.” One day I will.