cover image American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin

American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin

Hua-Ling Hu. Southern Illinois University Press, $24.95 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-8093-2303-6

Minnie Vautrin was a Christian missionary, a teacher and an administrator at Ginling College in Nanking. Having arrived in China in 1912 at the age of 26, she worked tirelessly for nearly 30 years to expand and maintain the school, to educate Chinese women and to improve the lot of the city's poor. But she served her adopted country best during the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, when the city and its citizens were ravaged by the Japanese. During the occupation, Japanese soldiers raped an estimated 20,000 women; that number would have been higher were it not for Vautrin. Turning the Ginling campus into a sanctuary for 10,000 women and children, she created a small international safety zone. She stood up to the soldiers who demanded women to brutalize, and she did her best to negotiate with their superiors to keep her haven safe. She also brought order and hope to the refugees' lives by organizing classes, as well as Christmas and other celebrations. In the early 1940s, however, Vautrin, feeling like a failure, committed suicide. Unfortunately, despite the drama of Vautrin's story and Hu's use of Vautrin's own letters and diaries, the prose here is dry and almost dispassionate, often bogging down in the details of school administration. Iris Chang's recent The Rape of Nanking is a far more poignant account of this period, to which this book mostly serves as a supplement. Photos, maps. (Mar.)