I just discovered a book called "The Secret Behind 'The Rape of Nanking': A Spiritual Confession by Iris Chang" by Ryuho Okawa. A small bit of background: Iris Chang's impressive and well-researched account of the massacre and ill-treatment of thousands (true numbers unknown) of Chinese civilians at the hands of Japanese soldiers during WWII in the city of Nanjing is compellingly documented in a book called "The Rape of Nanking", published in 1997. Because of the depraved picture it paints of the Japanese military, many Japanese nationalists state the claims in the book are exaggerated or outright false, despite the evidence and much of the rest of the world agreeing on the details of Chang's account. She died by suicide in 2004.

Enter "The Secret Behind...", a book written by Ryuho Okawa who wrote a book to introduce doubt about the facts found in Chang's account. To do this in a way that seems credible, they claim to be "summoning the spirit of Iris Chang from the spirit world." More from the back cover: "Regardless of whether or not you believe in a spiritual message phenomenon, as an individual human being, you cannot remain unmoved by her tears of apology [for writing "The Rape of Nanking"] and the truth in her plea." Apparently her spirit, as channeled (?) by Okawa, wants to apologize for her damning account.

So my questions: In publishing something that claims a dead person said something clearly contradictory to their life's work, is Ryuho Okawa exposing themself to legal repercussions from anyone? Would it change if Iris Chang were alive? Is there a time limit for protecting one's reputation from "ghost-versions" of oneself saying contradictory things?

  • 3
    In (most if not all) common law jurisdictions, a dead person has no reputation to defend and cannot be defamed.
    – xngtng
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 13:56
  • I think defamation would not be the strongest claim; rather, I'd consider a false-light or misappropriation of identity claim.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 18:29
  • Not to get off topic of the defamation claim but it is possible for a person to say/claim/act one way in public but say/claim/act contradictory way in private for many reasons. I don't think that being contradictory would be enough for a lawsuit on it's own.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 18:41

2 Answers 2


is Ryuho Okawa exposing themself to legal repercussions from anyone? Would it change if Iris Chang were alive?

For the most part, that is very unlikely. The assertion about "summoning the spirit of Iris Chang from the spirit world" readily puts the audience on notice that the narrative altogether is unverifiable. In this regard, an example from US defamation law is Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 9 (1990) (listing the factor of "whether the statement is verifiable" to distinguish between statements of opinion and of fact). Accordingly, announced unverifiability hints at unreliability.

The legal rationale would be similar to that of metaphor or rhetorical hyperbole, at least in regard to large portions of the population [worldwide] where stories about the channeling of a spirit are considered fiction and therefore not credible. Likewise, legal theories such as fraud and unfair and deceptive practices would fail because the context of the alleged channeling precludes the prima facie element of [readers'] reasonable reliance.

The wording from the back cover about "[Chang's] tears of apology [...] and the truth in her plea" is inconclusive as to whether Okawa's narrative suggests a retraction by Chang. It is true that some countries enact laws against historical revisionism regarding specific issues, but neither it is clear to me that China has such legislation regarding the events in Nanking, nor is it clear from your description that the book amounts to an unlawful denial rather than Okawa's [purportedly biased] criticism.

A remote possibility of actionability is a "trademark-style" theory to the extent (if any) that Okawa's narrative causes or is likely to cause [among readers] confusion between the real Iris Chang and the homonymous character that Okawa fabricated in his narrative. However, the clearer the context of "spirit channeling" is disclaimed in the book, the unlikelier for that confusion or risk thereof to arise.


In some jurisdictions a dead person's heir can sue for defamation of that person, particularly in a number of European countries. In most common-law jurisdictions, no such suit is allowed. I do not know about the law of Japan on this issue. Such a suit would seem the only way to legally challenge such a book. Even if the law of Japan allows it, such a suit could be brought only by Iris Chang's heirs. If they did not choose to sue, no one else could.

If Iris Chang were alive, a suit for defamation would seem possible, but only if Chang chose to sue.

In general it is not a crime or tort to write a work of claimed history unsupported by the facts. In Germany Holocaust denial is a crime because of a special law there. There could be a similar law in Japan, but I have never heard of one.

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