Boxers & Saints Boxed Set
Boxers and Saints is Gene Luen Yang’s newest two-volume graphic novel showing two opposing perspectives from the Boxer Rebellion.
Beginning immediately after publication of the critically lauded American Born Chinese, Mr. Yang has been researching, writing, and illustrating this newest novel since 2006. Weighing in at a combined 512 pages, the set is a massive undertaking. In Saints we follow a young Chinese girl named Four-Girl, an unwanted and unloved fourth daughter. Four-Girl is led by visions to the Christian missionaries where she is welcomed in to an eager faith. Leaving her family behind, the newly baptized Four-Girl becomes Vibiana, a caretaker of orphans at the missionary fort.
In Boxers, the son of a local merchant, Little Bao, has had enough of these foreigners pushing their opium and their religion on the Chinese peasantry. Constantly reminded of how his father had been beaten into helpless submission after seeking assistance for protection from these “Foreign Devils” Bao joins many men from the village being trained in the ways of Kung Fu by a traveling Master.
Led by Red Lantern Chu, a Brother Disciple of the Big Sword Society, the men of the village band with other members of the Society to lead a campaign of Nationalistic justice upon all foreigners and the “Secondary Devils”—Chinese who have converted to Christianity.
With minimal overlapping, we are given two complete narratives that stand successfully on their own, but become a statement of the need for perspective when judging past events. Known for his use of magical realism, Gene Leun Yang incorporates visions of ancient gods and goddesses, wise woodland creatures, and foreign luminaries.
While very believable for a young Chinese boy to recall past tales of warrior gods to extrapolate his visions from, to watch Four-Girl have visions of Joan of Arc, a figure unknown to her at first appearance, is a leap that misses its landing.
Without a rudimentary knowledge of the Boxer Rebellion it is unclear as to what parts of the novel are facts based and which are pure imagination. That there was a Big Sword Society and that the Boxers believe that they could achieve extraordinary abilities such as flight and imperviousness to foreign weapons through diet, prayer, and martial arts training is lost when the line is blurred so thoroughly between fact and fiction,
Author Yang’s time has been well spent on Boxers and Saints. It will be loved by schools and libraries as a title that adds legitimacy to the “Graphic Novel as Literature” conversation. It will be a set that will appear on reading lists when students are studying the history of the Boxer Rebellion.
Boxers and Saints is not, sadly, a book that cements a place in the reader’s heart. Unlike American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints does not linger in the consciousness, pulling the reader back in when revelations become clear days after having been read. It tries to strike a balance between telling an engaging story while imparting information about historical events and figures, and while successful in that endeavor, there is a coldness to the book that allows us—too easily—to place it back on the shelf after we are done.