Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Goddesses of Mercy", Women of the Other Holocaust

On 14 May, 1941, a fifty-four year old spinster turned on the kitchen gas in a house in Indianapolis and did away with herself. It wasn't the first time she had tried - a year earlier on her way home to the United States after close to thirty years missionary service in China she had attempted suicide on the ship. Considering the mental burdens she must have carried and the horrific physical abuses and tortures she had witnessed, it isn't that surprising. Her name was Wilhelmina ("Minnie") Vautrin, known to the Chinese as "Goddess of Mercy" for her actions during the infamous Rape of Nanking (Warning - link contains some graphic images) in which she saved many thousands of Chinese women from rape and murder by the Japanese army.

I am very familiar with the story of the Massacre as I grew up hearing about it from my parents who lived in China at the time and who personally knew some of the witnesses who escaped from Nanking to Shanghai to tell the tale of what they had seen. My father served in the Shanghai Defence Force during 1937 and I still have his albums that contain gruesome photographs that he took of the Japanese carnage inflicted on the civilian population of China.

What makes this event particularly distressing is that, unlike the Holocaust in Europe which is only denied by a recalcitrant few, the majority of Japanese still refuse to acknowledge it ever happened, or at least they minimise the scale of the brutality and dispute the Chinese figures of 300,000 dead.

And as if the rest of the world still doesn't want to know either, just this weekend reports of the first Chinese commemoration seem to have been relegated to the less important mid-sections of Western newspapers. BBC version - Nanjing Massacre

Minnie Vautrin knew the truth of it. And so did Tsen Shui-fang - reputedly the only Chinese woman to keep a secret diary of the events as they unfolded. Their stories are told in two books by Hua-ling Hu.

See Google Books for full biographical details of both women

The other book by Hua-ling Hu.

 Minnie Vautrin is buried in Illinois.


Links to other sites:

Youtube re-enactment of Minnie's testimony.

Detailed history of the atrocities of the Massacre.

John Rabe - German Nazi businessman who saved an estimated 250,000 Chinese.

Several movies:

Article about Chinese film The Flowers of War.

Another Chinese film City of Life and Death

German film John Rabe (apparently Minnie was written out of the script and replaced by a French woman!)

American film Nanking (Mariel Hemingway played Minnie.)

Many books on the subject - just key "Nanking" or "Nanjing" into your search.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Off with the Pixies

My lovely daughter Vix -- who is a very talented and perceptive tarot reader (find her on Facebook and see her in action here at New Age Hipster) -- sent me a link to this interesting blog about Pamela Colman Smith. 

An original line drawing by Pamela Colman Smith

What an amazing story - and I can't believe I knew nothing of this woman in spite of having seen her work before in all sorts of publications - possibly as Pixie Smith, the other name she was known by. She is just one of so many female artists who have never had the recognition they deserve. Only through her images for early tarot cards is she now remembered, but she did so much more. This book on The Russian Ballet may be familiar to many:

More images in the full text available at Gutenberg

Being a little dubious about what the blog said about Pamela/Pixie's origins - that her mother was Jamaican and father American, it seems that there have been a lot of errors about her being perpetuated across the Internet. Some state she was born in Manchester, others in London, and some even say that she was adopted, or was the foster daughter of the actress Ellen Terry!  Other sites allege she was Lesbian, others that she was a reclusive and committed Catholic. 

As it seems people have taken these assorted facts and embroidered them to suit their own agendas, there is definitely scope here for a reliable and authoritative biography about this woman. I did some swift research of my own through various genealogical sites and also found a few sources that appear more trustworthy than others.

Her full name was Corinne Pamela Mary Colman Smith and she had solid New England American ancestry on both sides and just because she wrote and illustrated a book on West Indian folklore it seems assumptions have been made that she had to have black heritage! I recommend this website by Phil Norfleet as one of the better ones.

Pamela died in 1951 in Bude, Cornwall, leaving a modest estate of just over £1,000 and it looks as if there is no gravestone or plaque to mark her existence. Norfleet's site also says this about Pamela/Pixie:
"... in my opinion, she chose that area because pixies were believed to be particularly concentrated in the region around Devon and Cornwall. She always thought herself as a pixie who really didn't fit in well among ordinary humans. She once told W B Yeats that she had been able to see fairies in Ireland. I hope that she found and was able to see what she was looking for in Cornwall! "
(New Age Hipster Vix may find it psychically interesting that her own ancestors on her grandmother's side all came from the Bude region - where of course piskeys/pixies and fairies still exist!)

Cats from "In Chimney Corners - Merry Tales of Irish Folklore"