Archive for February 25th, 2015

Boxers and Saints Gene Yang

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Note: This is a review as part of our Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics series.

I was teaching weekly Bible studies when some of the children in my class introduced to me this graphic novel called Boxers.  The kids told me it was a good story and that I would like it since it has to do with God and religion.  After doing a little research myself and seeing glowing reviews of the book online I decided to give the book a shot.  What at first began as a concern for the kids of whether they were reading appropriate materials turned out to be quite an enjoyable read.  Although I rarely read fiction (let alone Graphic Novels!) I must say that I really enjoyed this book and its companion work titled Saints.

The book Boxers and its sequel Saints is situated in the late nineteenth century historical even known in Chinese history as the Boxers Rebellion.  During the rebellion some Chinese whom we often called “Boxers,” took it upon themselves to attack foreigners and Chinese.  The turmoil eventually ended when eight foreign states united to put down the rebellion militarily.  As one might have guessed, the book titled Boxers tells the story from the perspective of a young boy that grew up to lead the Boxers’ rebellion while the second volume titled Saints tells the story of a Chinese girl that later became Christian.  I like how the author overlapped both stories in a similar fashion as Clint Eastwood’s movies Flag of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.  Incidents from one book is covered in the other book and one get a better picture of what happened after going through Saints.  If you only read one volume without the other I think each story would be able to stand but it would not have the same depth as it is when read together.

Both books are very well researched.  The author did his homework and the amount of historical detail is amazing for graphic novels.  I loved how the author also gave the readers recommended readings to learn more about the history of the Boxers’ rebellion.

What I really like about Boxers is that it allows the readers to see the motive of what drove the boxers.  The characters were believable and even have endearing characteristics.  It is important to realize that the author is not trying to communicate that their violence was justified, even though we can empathized with them as one of us.  In fact, as the story continued the plot gets darker and I myself started to question the legitimacy of the protagonist’s cause.  One needs to read the end of the sequel to see that the author’s main point was not a moral justification for what the Boxers did.

What I really like about Saints is the author’s ability to describe what Christianity must have sound like to those who first heard about Christianity (note: the author’s Catholic background does come through the book).  The author has a gift of being acutely aware of cultural barriers between East and West in his other comics and it is put to good use here in our story here as well.  The author was able to do a good job giving a portrait to the readers of what good can come about through sincere Christians while also balancing that with the shortcoming of Christians and even hypocrites.  The author is able to portray so many interesting characters in the limited space of the book.

Both books were beautifully illustrated.  The author has good humor although at times it seems a little bit juvenile, which reminds us that this book was intended for a younger audience!  However, the book is not just for kids; both volumes make us think about the good of faith, how some would abuse religion, what human nature is like, and the role of peace-making in contrast to violence.  It is fast paced and has an amazing conclusion in the sequel.  You wouldn’t want to miss both books!

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