China salutes Illinois hero of massacre by Japanese

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This summer and fall, in a rare turn of events, Beijing is commemorating the victims of Japanese war crimes through the eyes of a foreigner: Minnie Vautrin, a missionary educator from Secor, near Bloomington. In a communist country where the United States is often attacked in media and the arts, an official dance drama tells of the massacre in Nanjing as witnessed by the American woman.

When Japanese troops stormed into Nanjing in 1937, murdering 300,000 Chinese and raping thousands of women and girls, Vautrin was among a handful of foreigners who stood against the tide.

She hung an American flag outside her missionary college, declared a safe zone and sheltered 10,000 women and children from death by gunfire, sword and bayonet. She held her ground when imperial troops aimed rifles at her, slapped her face, threatened her with death.

Another former Illinois resident is also at the center of the production "Nanjing 1937." The dance, which opened in Beijing this month and is slated to travel elsewhere in China, portrays Vautrin's ghost guiding the research of author Iris Chang, who is revered in China for writing a best-selling account of the atrocity, "The Rape of Nanking," as the city was then known.

Choreographer Tong Ruirui, 28, said she was moved to learn that both women ended up committing suicide--belated victims, she believes, of the massacre. Vautrin suffered a nervous breakdown and killed herself in 1941 at age 53 in Indianapolis. Chang, who was severely depressed, shot herself in California last November. She was 36.

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