Iris Chang: The History of a Historian

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Iris Chang, a late twentieth century Chinese American historian who researched the experiences of Chinese Americans throughout history, committed suicide in November 2004. A few years later, her once close friend, Paula Kamen, decided to research the possible causes for Iris’s seemly abrupt death and published a small biography of her. The biography, Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind, was an effort to quell misconceptions of Iris’s apparent sudden death and depict her personal life by using the accounts of various people Chang interacted with. The book, however, is a testament to the idea that while a biographical account may somewhat describe the experiences of a certain social group that its subject belonged to, the biography is too individualized that other types of resources would be better fitted to research the history of said group. To begin, it is interesting to note that the author, Kamen, wrote the biography in a style most similar to first-person mystery novels. The premise for writing the book lies in the fact that Iris Chang was well-known historian and author, but details of her personal life, which could potentially have given clues on the motives of her suicide, were largely unknown. In essence, Kamen saw the biography as a means to “investigate beyond the public contours of this public figure, to find color, depth, and maybe even shadow [to Iris’s life]." Now, throughout American history, American society has dictated that Chinese immigrants and Chinese American take backseats to white Americans when it comes to rights and privileges. Starting as early as 1790 with the Nationality Act, which effectively denied early Chinese immigrants and their children rights to ... ... middle of paper ... Iris Chang carried too much weight on investigating Chang’s own mental illness and fails to make a meaningful connection between Iris Chang’s life and the contemporary Chinese American experience. In addition, the objective nature of the biography allowed Kamen to inject too much of her personal perspectives surrounding the issues at hand. In an ironic twist, Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America triumphs Finding Iris Chang when it comes to understanding Chinese American history. Works Cited Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking, 2003. Print. Chun, Edna. "Asian Americans In Leadership The Invisible Minority." INSIGHT Into Diversity. Potomac Publishing Inc., 03 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. Kamen, Paula. Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind. [Cambridge, Mass.]: Da Capo, 2007. Print.

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