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Monday, September 18, 2017

Boxers (Graphic Novel) (Historical Fiction)

by Gene Luen Yang & Lark Pien

Publisher: First Second; 1st edition (September 10, 2013)

Softcover 336 pages

Finished 9/18/2017

Amazon Listing

    A companion novel to Saints which depicts the beginning of the Boxer Rebellion in China around the turn of the previous century. Here we have the fictionalized beginnings of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist with a group of men who begin essentially a philosophical fitness club which then combined with a defensive organization, The Big Sword Society, into a violent political movement. 

    As the protagonist in the previous novel, the main character, Bao, is spiritually led by a historical figure. In this case it was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, for whom the entire country is named after. Through his training Bao develops a ritual which allows the practitioner to become possessed with the spirit of a god and defeat the foreign invaders. This is similar to what the actual Boxers believed, they also felt that their rituals would protect them from bullets and other weapons, similar to the Native American Ghost Dancer uprising in the later 19th Century. Of course, they were eventually proved wrong. The Boxer Rebellion was brutally crushed. European influence would not be extinguished from the country until after World War II with the Communist takeover under Mao Zedong.
    The Boxer Rebellion was essentially a populist uprising, that gathered support from various Chinese government and military officials along the way, but ultimately ended in disaster. Most of that due to the superior force of arms wielded by the European forces. Nine times out of ten, the side with the better gun wins.
This is a tragic tale and ends painfully. The author’s simplistic line style, adds to the childlike enthusiasm of the rural peasants who thought they could root out the foreign devils. As they continue on, some die, some leave, some become monsters. The blood tide rises and our hero begins making harsher and more violent decisions, which ultimately lead to his own death.
Author Gene Luen Yang
This is not to say that the protagonist isn’t a sympathetic character. He believes in his cause. He wishes to preserve his culture and rejects what he sees as an evil foreign influence trying to destroy all that he holds sacred. Some may question his methods of expelling it, but he was in fact responding to the methods used against himself and his fellow villagers. An eye for an eye.
This tale is more spiritual than factual, but the author does include an impressive bibliography at the end for those who are interested in reading more on Chinese Culture and the Boxer rebellion. I have ordered several of them and look forward to eventually reading and reviewing them. 
French political cartoon on the European carving up of China
           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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