Feature: Mathematics professor pens gripping historical novel about Nanjing Massacre

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-12 22:35:08|Editor: Yang Yi
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by Xinhua writers Zhu Dongyang, Guo Yina

BOSTON, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- With 2017 marking the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, the haunting memories of Japan's war of aggression against China during World War II (WWII) have never left Zheng Hong.

Zheng, who now leads a quiet life as a professor of applied mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, has recently published his novel "Nanjing Never Cries" after a decade of hard work.


Roughly two months after Zheng was born in 1937, the Japanese Imperial Forces shot at Chinese troops at the Lugou Bridge on the outskirts of Beijing, shelling their way into China's territory. No one could have imagined the hell that the next eight years would bring.

The reason why Zheng became a novelist is largely to process his childhood memories of the aftermath of the Japanese aggression.

Of course, preserving his memories for posterity was another motivation for him.

Zheng had spent his childhood mostly running for shelter amid the frequent air raids by Japanese bombers, which, he recalled, had always sparked dust, smoke and squeals.

"When everything turned quiet outside, I would climb out of wherever I was hiding, just to see my parents and other grown-ups moving away the new corpses in the street and everywhere," he said.

"The cloths covering the unfortunate were visibly shattered like the bodies themselves. Their blood kept dripping, making an arc in the air that reminds me of the shells dropping out of the Japanese bombers before they hit the ground," Zheng recalled.


Against the backdrop of the city of Nanjing during the time of the Japanese aggression (1931-1945), "Nanjing Never Cries" tells the story of four young people caught up in the tumult of those years.

When the Japanese invade, there is no safe place in the city. The Japanese murder, torture and rape indiscriminately. Each one of the characters tries to survive against all odds.

Gripping and disturbing, the book offers a compelling story of the horrors of war and the power of love and forgiveness, and was well received after being published in both English and Chinese in 2016.P Zheng has witnessed the difficulties of Japan's atrocious war against China "first hand," according to a press release by Killian Press, the publisher of the 39-chapter novel.

The book "excels in dramatic and panoramic moments, like the chaotic evacuation of Nanjing after the attack," according to Kirkus Reviews. "The whole book effectively puts a human face on one of WWII's noteworthy tragedies. A well-researched and capably written depiction of the Rape of Nanjing and its effects on victims and survivors."

As an advocate for the voices of whom he feels have been ignored by history books, Zheng was irritated and frustrated by a symposium on Hiroshima at MIT on April 13, 1995.

Four panelists, three Americans and one Japanese, discussed U.S. guilt over the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, yet with zero mention of Japan's violence in China and other Asian nations.

Zheng was prompted to ask whether the Japanese might feel any remorse about their actions, but was given a less than satisfactory answer from a U.S. scholar.

The Japanese speaker later approached Zheng and asked him to sign a petition urging the Japanese government to apologize to China. "But he did not say any bit of that on the podium," he said.

It was during moments like these that Zheng considered writing the novel. He traveled to China and talked with two survivors of the Nanjing Massacre committed by the Japanese Imperial Forces. His research and interviews were incorporated into the story.


In the eyes of Alan L. Chase, a reader that gave the book a five-star review on Amazon, Zheng "shines a light on the dark matter of the Sino-Japanese War."

"This is a slice of history about which I knew little. This story served to make me aware of the depth of the animus that still simmers beneath the surface of Chinese and Japanese relationships," he wrote. "I am thankful that Professor Zheng has drilled deeply into his memory of that painful period to tell a story that needs to be read and understood as a cautionary tale."

Peter Kempthorne, also an MIT professor, called the book penned by his colleague "very important."

"I was very surprised to learn details of the relationship between Japan and China during WWII. When I talked with friends in China they often have very strong feelings about Japan. And I did not understand the source of these feelings until I read the book," he said.

"Yet the book does offer hope for the future and the ability of different peoples to get along and forge new relationships. It is perhaps one of the most powerful stories I have ever heard," he added.

Speaking of Tokyo's rampant attempt to glorify its war atrocities, Kempthorne said he does not believe such war crimes could be "whitewashed." "They definitely should not be whitewashed and they should be investigated. I don't have personal evidence but I know there are people who do have. I do think it's very relevant and important for the Chinese people to share their stories of what happened and to inform others," said Kempthorne.

"I think one has a much better future if you are able to provide the historical record of exactly what happened, accept the historical past and respect those facts and move forward from them," he said.

For Zheng himself, the violence Japan imposed on China is no less than "ethnic cleansing."

"I want to preserve this piece of history for the younger generation. My generation is dying," he said. "We owe it to history to preserve this memory."