Friday, May 23, 2014

Boxers and Saints By Jean Luen Yang


China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.
Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers - commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from "foreign devils."
Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of "secondary devils" - Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.
----Boxers & Saints is an innovative new graphic novel in two volumes - the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang brings his clear-eyed storytelling and trademark magical realism to the complexities of the Boxer Rebellion and lays bare the foundations of extremism, rebellion, and faith.
Discover the other side of the Boxer Rebellion in Saints - the companion volume to Boxers.
Summary courtesy of

“Boxers” by Gene Luen Yang follows the life of a Chinese boy in the retelling of one of the bloodiest times in Chinese history known as the Boxer rebellion.  The story begins with Little Bao as a young boy, anxiously awaiting Spring and the arrival of the Little Bao’s passion; operas. Each of the operas tells of the legends of Chinese Gods like Sun-Wu Kong; the monkey god and Guan Yu; the God of War.   Little Bao’s lives with his two brave brothers, and his honorable father in a farming village. Life is not easy; all the villagers are aware that their crops are at the mercy of flooding rains but work as a community when times are tough. Soon a much more dangerous threat comes to the villager’s way of life. “Round-eyed Foreigners” and their Chinese converts, preaching about their “One God” arrive in the village.  These impudent foreign devils take what they want, push their foreign religion and take control the Ch’ing Government. Little Bao’s father attempt to appeal to the magistrate ends when he is beaten senseless by soldiers. This cannot continue!! They feel they must do something! They must fight back!
Passions arise! Little Bao, his brothers and friends join the legendary Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, a band of Chinese Nationals who are fighting to bring justice and control of China back to its people. The decree is noble; resist corruption, honor your parents, give compassion to the weak, and protect each other.  Before battle each of this group elicits the spirit of their Gods with the belief that they will make them invulnerable in battle. Bao, now leader of his group, is guided by the spirit of Ch’in Shih-Huang, the First Divine sovereign, the Son of Heaven. Their noble goal is to eradicate the foreigners and “secondary devils” from the land and unite China again; but at what cost? War rarely remains noble and is always bloody. Bao begins to question his decisions as the conflict turns more and more violent. How will this rebellion end? Who will win? Read “Boxers” by Gene Luen Yang and find out.  

"Saints" shows the rebellion through the eyes of Four-girl. Four-girl is the unwelcome, unwantedfourth daughter born on the fourth month of the forth day; four is a homonym of "death" Finding no friendship or love in her family, Four-girl finds friendship and a name, Virbiana,  in the christian missionaries who have settled in the nearby village. But now is not a good time to be a Christian in China, Bands of vigilantes are scouring the countryside hunting down Christians and their  Chinese converts. When confronted by the rebels, Virbiana will have to decide where her loyalties lie, and whether they are worth dying for.  

Author, Gene Luen Yang meant for this graphic novel to be read as a two book set along with the Christian viewpoint told in the novel entitled, “Saints”.  Yang captures the passions of both sides of the Boxer rebellion showing that no one truly wins in war. In fact, Virbaina and Boa lives are personally entwined in the two novels. The picture below shows Bao's first encounter with Virbaina when they were children. Before this graphic novel I had never heard of the Boxer Rebellion. I found myself researching for information on the rebellion in the library’s encyclopedias. Yang successfully mixes bits of humor with fanatical passions to bring us an amazing epic adventure. The drawings thoughtfully portray Bao’s humbler existence in muted pastels for most of the novel. However, when the story introduces the Chinese Gods and battle scenes the color transforms to more vivid colors. Although the drawings are simple, Yang reveals the battle scenes in bloody detail. For this reason I would recommend “Boxers” to students in grades 8 and up.

I would recommend reading the companion book, Saints to understand the Rebellion from the Christian and their Chinese convert point of view. I would also suggest Gene Luen Yang’s Prinz award winner, American Born Chinese. 

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