by Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 2013
ISBN: 9781596433595 (Boxers), 9781596436893 (Saints)
325 pages (Boxers), 170 pages (Saints)
In 1900, there was an uprising in China by a group called the Right and Harmonious Fists that was an attempt to drive out foreign influence, specifically Chinese christians and western missionaries. Today, this bloody conflict is known as the Boxer Rebellion. In his two companion graphic novels Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang, presents both sides of the rebellion in an equal and compassionate light. Neither side is right or guilty.
Boxers is best read first. Boxers is the story of Little Bao, a young boy growing up in China who loves the opera players. As he grows, after watching foreign missionaries crush his beloved opera gods and permanently incapacitate his father, Little Bao joins his brothers in the Society of the Right and Harmonious Fists, who train in Kung Fu to free China from imperialist and foreign influence. When they attack, the illustrations become more colorful and the members of the Society physically transform into the local Gods.
Later in his story, Little Bao encounters Vibiana, a Christian convert. We get her perspective in Saints, who is driven to convert to Christianity after a lifetime of neglect by her family. Vibiana’s hero is Joan of Arc, who appears from time to time to share her story and give advice.
Boxers and Saints are both moved quickly along by Yang’s illustrations, which he fully harnesses to tell a complex, nuanced stories.The colors in both stories are muted, but the religious figures of both sides are colored much brighter than anything else. The violent scenes aren’t overly graphic, but at the same time Yang doesn’t shy away from depicting the atrocities committed by both sides. Both historical fiction fans and graphic novel aficionados should check out Boxers and Saints.
You Might Also Consider…
- If you like Boxers and Saints, don’t miss one of Yang’s earlier graphic novels, American Born Chinese.
- For another thought-provoking graphic novel set outside of the U.S., check out Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi
- For a historical fiction graphic novel about the Japanese internment camps, try Take What You Can Carry by Kevin Pyle.