- Boxers & Saints/Gene Luen Yang
- Yang, Gene Luen
- New York : First Second, 2013.
- 9781596439245; $34.99
- 512 p.
Little Bao joins the Boxer Rebellion to drive out the foreign devils and destroy Chinese Christianity; meanwhile, Vibiana flees from her harsh family to find acceptance with the missionaries and Chinese Christians.
Little Bao is angry at the injustices against his people committed by “foreign devils” and their Chinese followers. He begs to train with a group of Chinese nationalists. He and his brothers learn Judo, but Bao is denied the chance to go on their first mission. While home waiting, he meets an unusual teacher, through whom Bao is introduced to the mystical powers of the Chinese gods. Little Bao becomes a leader among the rebels and convinces them that they are inhabited by the spirits of the gods and therefore invulnerable. Their peasant army, the Boxers, march to Peking, killing foreign devils and secondary devils (Chinese Christians) as they go.
At the same time, Four-girl struggles to find acceptance in her own family home. She turns to the foreign and secondary devils to make her into the devil the family thinks she is. When she is forced from her home and begins having visions of Joan of Arc, the girl renamed Vibiana must choose between her heritage and a new faith and between life and death.
This graphic novel is very atmospheric, with sepia toned graphics with occasional punches of color, especially in the drawings of the Chinese gods and in the blood that is spilled. A lot of blood is spilled, along with a few other graphic depictions such as decapitations. All of this is drawn in a cartoon-fashion.
The plot is interesting, with historical elements woven in with magical episodes such as the gods inhabiting the Chinese patriots and the visions of Joan of Arc by Vibiana, who supposedly would never have heard of Joan. The author gives texture to the rebellion by showing the motivations of Little Bao and the rebels. He also reveals the complexities of the beliefs, character, and motivations of the missionaries and Chinese Christians. The novel does not answer the question of right or wrong, but shows what can happen when cultures and religious beliefs clash without any attempt at understanding.
This novel is unique in its two-volume structure, telling parallel stories of opposing sides during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Additionally, this is a historical event which few westerners know much about.
Visit the author’s website.
Interview with Kristina Lin of TaiwaneseAmerican.org
Interview with Mother Jones.
Graphic novel; historical comic
Some will like the historical content; others will like the magical realism and graphic component.
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. These novels have different settings (1890’s China vs. 1970’s Iran), but both tackle political upheaval in graphic novel format.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, by Art Spiegelman. The two books share the genre of historical graphic novel and are both moving tales of horrific events.
Samurai Shortstop, by Alan Gratz. Both are graphic novels dealing with the topic of the clash of East/West cultures and political upheaval. Samurai Shortstop is about feudal Japan.
Fanfare 1998 – Horn Book Honor List (And Ongoing)
Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Nominees Young Adult 2004-05 (And Ongoing)
A booktalk could describe the injustices happening to the Chinese in Little Bao’s village and go on to talk about his determination to train, ending in his leaving the village to seek justice.
Another idea would be to focus on the bloodshed–the Chinese at the hands of foreigners and the imperial army, and the Christians, including Chinese Christians, at the hands of nationals.
The Society had edicts that revealed certain values (such as honor your father and mother), yet in defending China under the influence of Ch’in Shih-huang, Bao breaks these edicts. Why? What effect does this have on him?
Throughout the Saints volume, Vibiana seems only to play with Christianity as a way to get back at her family. Why then, in the end, does she die refusing to renounce the faith?
Why were the Boxers as violently opposed to their fellow countrymen who became Christians as to the foreign missionaries and mercenaries?
Why did the author depict Little Bao and his followers as inhabited by the spirits of the gods and ancestors? What does this say about the motivation of the Boxers?
Why I chose this book
This was a book group pick. I would not normally read graphic novels, but the story of this book, the Boxer Rebellion and the story of Christian missions in China at this time, were of interest.
Boxer rebellion, Joan of Arc