Monday, March 24, 2014

Boxers and Saints

Yang, Gene Luen. 2013. BOXERS & SAINTS. New York City, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596439245 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]


The Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th Century was a reaction to oppression of the Chinese by the English and Christian missionaries.  Boxers & Saints, a paired graphic novel set by Gene Luen Yang, tell two contrasting viewpoints of the rebellion, both Chinese. 

Boxers tells the story of a peasant named Bao inspired by ancient Chinese spirits and caught up in the growing momentum of the rebellion.  Saints however, tells the story of a girl who runs away from an unhappy home to work with Christian missionaries.  Both stories are complex discussions of human nature.  Neither perspective is glorified or vilified. 

The rebellion was against foreign influence in China, and Yang’s choice in perspectives is noteworthy.  Rather than provide insight into the Christian missionaries or foreign European armies whose presence sparked the Boxer Rebellion, Yang creates complex Chinese characters on opposing sides of the conflict.  Yang gave a complex voice to women and peasants during an oppressive and rebellious time in Chinese history.

Between the two conflicting perspectives, neither is proven more righteous.  Both include understandable and relatable motivations alongside questionable decisions.  The Boxer Rebellion was complex and remains controversial. While capturing that essence, Yang tells a fascinating story sure to enthrall even some of the most reluctant readers.

Historical fiction is powerful in its way of humanizing historical time periods.  This graphic novel box set would be a powerful addition to any high school or college level history course, as it reminds its readers to look beyond the facts and dates to the complex reactions and motivations felt by the people most closely involved.

Other examples of historical fiction with unique perspectives
Cecelia, a Slave

By Emily Bredberg

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