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.