“American Goddess of Mercy” Revisited: Horror Behind the Mundane Details in Ha Jin’s Nanjing Requiem

Pingfan ZHANG


This essay examines how Ha Jin deploys historical materials such as diary and letters as a means of structuring a transnational Nanjing Massacre narrative. Particularly, I address Ha Jin’s “critical historical consciousness” in representing the Nanjing Massacre, which is first and foremost, closely related to his intellectual dilemma as a migrant writer— whether to use English to write stories about China in the U.S. Then I argue that in adapting Vautrin’s diary, Jin emphasizes exhaustive, details that give us a channel to mediate the loaded term of “American Goddess of Mercy.” Furthermore, through these mundane details, Jin portrays a Maussean notion of gift economy in Vautrin’s management of Ginling College, as Jin directs attention towards the horror of “complicity” between Vautrin and the Japanese army. In addition, he attempts to represent the unrepresentable—the failure of such a gift economy—exemplified by cruel rapes committed by Japanese soldiers inside the camp who consider Vautrin as their “friend.” I argue that Ha Jin calls attention to the pitfall of traditional historiography and demands us to re-examine the usage of historical materials in aesthetic works.


Nanjing Massacre; Ha Jin; Nanjing Requiem; Minnie Vautrin; critical historical consciousness; gift economy

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/11051


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