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The Courage of Minnie Vautrin

by Hua-ling Hu

Pub Date: March 29th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8093-2303-6
Publisher: Southern Illinois Univ.

An account of the remarkable courage of an American missionary who lived through the rape of Nanking, by award-winning

Chinese academic Hu (History/National Univ. of Taiwan).

Vautrin grew up in Illinois, joined the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, and was sent to China in 1912. In 1919, she

was appointed president of Ginling College, a women's institution in Nanking, where she was to live for the rest of her stay in

China. When war broke out in 1937 with the Japanese invasion of China, Vautrin refused to leave the city. The events that

followed are notorious as among the greatest war crimes of the 20th century: according to the International Military Tribunal an

estimated 200,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war were murdered in Nanking and its surroundings; other estimates go as

high as 300,000. Some 80,000 women were raped, and prisoners were used for medical experiments and bayonet practice. In the

midst of this horror, Vautrin, using her authority as the American head of a US institution, was able to give some measure of

protection to 10,000 women and their families in accommodations designed for a fraction of that number. For months she had

to be alert, racing from one end of the campus to the next, to prevent violence by Japanese soldiers. She herself was constantly

threatened. While immersed in this "hell on earth," she had to deal with the huge logistical problems of feeding and looking after

her charges. Those who survived described her as a "Goddess of Mercy." Vautrin, for her part, thought she had failed in her life’s

work. She suffered a nervous breakdown in 1940 and returned to the US, where she took her own life in 1941.

Hu was faced with the classic difficulty of portraying the true dimensions of powerful virtue: Unfortunately, the bare facts

of Vautrin’s life convey her stature far better than this heartfelt but somewhat pedestrian account.