Series: Boxers and Saints #1
Inspired by the martial abilities of a man dedicated to fighting foreign influences in China, a young peasant boy named Bao learns to call upon the powers of the gods. At the head of an army devoted to bringing justice to the people and stopping the spread of the Christian missionaries, Bao determines to bring unity to China. But will he have to abandon his principles in order to achieve victory?
In the first volume of his Boxers and Saints set, Gene Luen Yang tells the story of a peasant boy who joins the Sons of the Righteous and Harmonious First as they vow to rid China of foreign influences, including the Christian missionaries and Chinese converts, whom they call “secondary devils.” Bao and his followers learn the secrets of kung fu so they can take on the appearances and abilities of the Chinese gods. Bao believes that it is his destiny to restore and unify China.
Yang explores the motivations behind the Boxer Rebellion, making Bao and his followers sympathetic even as their mission transforms from protecting the people of China to waging outright war on the “foreign devils.” Bao begins with a firm set of principles to guide him, dedicating himself to defending the weak and abjuring the temptations of the flesh. He really believes that he is doing divine work and the illustrations showing him and his followers taking on the personas of the gods complicate the narrative. Is Bao delusional? Or is something supernatural really occurring? These questions become more pertinent as Bao finds himself needing to abandon his core values if he is to achieve victory.
Though the illustrations are simple, the graphics are often brutal. Yang does not shy away from depicting the horror of violence, the rage that drives individuals to bloody deeds, or the sacrifices of morality that war seems to necessitate. The result is a thought-provoking look at the Boxer Rebellion as seen through the eyes of one of the Boxers. Yang completes his treatment of the rebellion in the companion novel, Saints, which follows a Chinese girl as she converts to Christianity, and shows some of the same events from a different perspective. A fascinating look at a part of history not many readers may be familiar with.