Boxers and Saints

Gene Yang

Boxers and Saints

Gene Yang

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Boxers and Saints Summary

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Boxers and Saints, a graphic novel set by Gene Luen Yang, includes two graphic novels that can be read together or as standalone works. Both works, about the Boxer Rebellion in China, take place at the end of the 19th century. Boxers follows Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy, as he becomes part of the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Saints is told from the perspective of a nameless Chinese orphan girl, who is finally adopted and given the name Vibiana by a Christian community. The fight between Christians and anti-Christians in China, as told by these two young people caught up in their own struggles and tragedies, highlights the nuances in the Rebellion, as well as offering a lesson on Chinese history for readers who may not be familiar with the period. The graphic novels are meant for a young adult audience, ages twelve and up.

In Boxers, the protagonist, Little Bao, grows up impoverished and hungry in the Chinese countryside, a boy who has very little other than patriotism and tradition to fall back on. Little Bao, who struggles enough as a poor boy in China, is infuriated by all foreigners when non-Chinese soldiers begin random attacks on poor Chinese villagers. Little Bao and his family are victims of one of these random attacks, leaving Little Bao bitter, confused, and resentful. On top of that, Little Bao watches as Christian missionaries destroy ancient Chinese relics that his family has treasured for many generations. Their blatant disregard for Chinese tradition enrages Little Bao, who decides to do something to eradicate Christianity from China.

Soon, Little Bao discovers a group of people who are equally interested in “saving” China—an organization called the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. The purpose of the group is to remove all foreign “devils,” and “secondary devils”—Chinese people who have converted to Christianity, and so act against the best interests of their nation and its history. Little Bao not only joins the organization but soon becomes a grassroots leader. Little Bao and the people with whom he fights believe they are acting in accordance with the gods and their ancestors to preserve the China they know and love. The rebellion grows, moving from village to village until the Boxer Rebellion comes to its height in the capitol.

In Saints, Yang explores the opposite side of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of a young peasant girl. This narrator begins the book without a name. The fourth daughter in her family, she is considered completely useless and unloved—rather than giving her a real name, she is called only “Four-Girl” to indicate her age and gender. After many years without love or recognition, Four-Girl finally finds friendship and compassion with a group of Christian missionaries. She converts to Catholicism and is finally given a true name: Vibiana.

Vibiana, despite finally finding herself and her community in the Catholic church, is brutally beaten by her family for converting. Finding friends in foreign missionaries, Vibiana soon becomes a target for Little Bao and the Boxers, who see her as a “secondary devil,” that no longer has any place in China.

The graphic novels explore not only history, but magical realism, as Vibiana and Little Bao channel their spiritual guides—for Little Bao the first emperor of China, and for Vibiana, Joan of Arc. They finally come into conflict in the final battle at the capitol, in which each fights for what they know and believe in.

Yang is the author of a number of graphic novels for young adults, including his best-known work, American Born Chinese. He has also written The Eternal Smile, Prime Baby, and a series of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, as well as a series of Superman comics about Chinese Superman and the Justice League of China, put out by DC Comics from 2016-2019. Yang has received a number of awards for his work, including a MacArthur Genius Grant, and served for two terms as an Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Born in California to first-generation Chinese immigrants, Yang attended UC Berkeley, where he received an undergraduate degree in computer science and creative writing, despite his passion for art.
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