Boxers and Saints
by Gene Luen Yang
“What is China but a people and their stories?”
Boxers and Saints are two companion graphic novels that tell the two sides of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1898. Boxers follows Little Bao, a boy whose village is bullied and oppressed by Christian foreigners. Vowing to put a stop to it, he and his followers become imbued with the power of the ancient gods and fight the "foreign devils" and "secondary devils" -- the Chinese who converted to Christianity. Spurred on by the spirit of the Emperor who united China, his actions become more and more ruthless until he can no longer tell if his crusade is just. Saints tells the story of Four-Girl who is neglected and abused by her family and finds a home in the local Catholic Church. Baptized as Vibiana, she struggles with her purpose in life. Seeing visions of Joan of Arc, she wants to be a female warrior and lead her people to freedom, but the Boxer Rebellion is coming nearer and nearer, bringing death and destruction in its wake. When the time comes, what will her role be?
It has been a few months since I read these books, so please bear with me. These stories are beautifully told, but brutal and dark. Yang pulls no punches here. He does not flinch from letting his protagonists make very wrong choices. The images are beautiful and striking as each character is lead by visions of their own spiritual guide. I love watching how their two stories intersect and impact each other through life, both at odds, both with good intentions.
The ending to Boxers leaves you with a kick to the stomach, as does Saints, but there is a kernel of hope at the very very end that makes you feel that people are not entirely terrible.