What an incredibly brave, brilliant and inspiring woman Iris Chang was. What an unimaginably horrific atrocity the Nanking Massacre was. How ashamed I am to have known next to nothing about either before Into the Numbers.
Last night – thanks to a mesmerising performance followed by a thought-provoking post-show discussion with director Georgie Staight and the cast – was a crash course education in both. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll be ordering a copy of Chang’s groundbreaking book, The Rape of Nanking.
“I fall into the numbers of those who choose to fight”
Chinese-American Chang, one of the leading historians of her generation, committed suicide in 2004 at the age of 36, after a career in which she sought to shine a light on historic injustices, including Nanking as well as another Second World War atrocity, the Bataan Death March.
“If we are going to move forward as human beings, we must activity confront and understand those things that keep pulling us back.”
This premiere production of Into the Numbers, written by multi-award-winning American playwright Christopher Chen commemorates the 80th anniversary of the massacre. Starting in December 1937, in Nanking, then capital of China – 300,000 Chinese civilians were raped, tortured and murdered by the Japanese Army over a period of just six weeks. The victims included babies who were thrown into the air and bayoneted. It was not only one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century but one of the single worst cases of mass extermination in human history.
“What really counts, what really makes the measure of a country is how it accounts for its past in its present.”
In Into the Numbers, what begins as a standard lecture and interview with the celebrated author, soon descends into a surreal nightmare. As ghosts from her research appear, Chang tries desperately to find order in the midst of mental chaos. The play explores the philosophical and psychological implications of researching genocide, as well as the toll media saturation plays in the process – and much else.
For the Q&A, I was joined by director Georgie Staight and the full cast: Elizabeth Chan (who plays Iris Chang), Timothy Knightley, Jennifer Lim, Amy Molloy and Mark Ota. Watch the Facebook Livestream below for more on the history, the numbers, accountability, casting, the creative process – and more quotable quotes.
Event photography by Peter Jones.