Comic Book / Boxers & Saints

"Support the Ch'ing! Destroy the Foreigner!"

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Boxers and Saints are two historical fiction companion novels written by Gene Luen Yang, released together on September 10, 2013. The story is an epic and mystical take on the Boxer Rebellion of China, which occurred around the year of 1898.

Boxers stars a young boy named Little Bao, who respects his country's culture and wishes to drive the foreign devils from China. It follows him throughout his journey from being a simple boy, to becoming a leader of the Boxer Rebellion.

Saints takes on another perspective, starring Four-Girl, who is a girl from the same village, that joins the foreign devils and becomes a Chinese Christian. She takes on the name of Vibiana later in the story.

These two novels tie in together in a lot of places, but they can each be enjoyed individually and by themselves, if you don't care about the subtleties.


These books provide examples of:

  • The Ace: Red Lantern Chu.
  • Action Girl: Mei, Vibiana, all of the Red Lanterns.
  • Arc Symbol: Eyes, representing both compassion, as with Guan Yin and Vibiana's vision of the Christ, and rage, as with the fiery eyes that many Boxers share.
  • Atrocious Alias: Four-Girl, which both dehumanizes her and blames her for all her family's troubles.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, Vibiana (only because she chose it herself), and Red Lantern all have really cool names.
  • Broken Pedestal: Both Vibiana and Father Bey deeply respect Dr. Won, a Chinese Christian and man of seemingly unimpeachable character. Then it turns out he's an opium addict...
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Vibiana in Boxers, and the girl from the train who later kills one of Little Bao's brothers in retaliation for her father dying.
  • Cool Old Guy: Master Big Belly, arguably.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After sparing the life of a magistrate, he tags along for the rest of the books. However, it's less that he and Bao become friends, and more that he doesn't want to die and he has information and connections that Bao wants
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Saints, in contrast to Boxers, is very monochrome. It's actually a Flashback Effect.
  • Demon Head: Vibiana makes this face to express her 'demonic taint'. Little Bao compares it to the face of an opera mask and says because of it they will marry and have many opera mask faced sons.
  • Dumb Struck: Bao's father does not move from his spot and what little he does speak is in a foreign language.
  • Downer Ending: In Boxers, since it's the story of the Boxer rebellion from the Boxers' point of view. The last image you see is Little Bao lying on the ground, bleeding out, as he sees the gods of the opera drift away.
  • Fat Bastard: Master Big Belly, Bao's harsh teacher who somehow keeps fat despite the famine consuming the land.
  • Formerly Fat: Big Belly loses all his fat after using the mystic vision in his stomach to teach Bao how to commune with the gods of the opera.
  • Four is Death: Part of the reason behind Vibiana's family issues — she was originally blamed for the family's troubles due to being born fourth, and was not even given a name, being called "Four-Girl".
  • Good Samaritan: Mei, after being inspired by the tales of Guan Yin. Vibiana also has a vision of Jesus who tells the Trope Namer story, which encourages her to teach Little Bao the prayer that saves his life.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Bey is a realistic example. He genuinely means well, unlike many of the other Westerners, and he is both brave and peaceful in the defense of his faithful, but he is also capable of being harsh, judgemental, and ignorant.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: Neither the Society members nor the Europeans and their Chinese allies come across particularly well, by the time both books end.
  • Hero of Another Story: Bao and Vibiana. Justified in that they're the main characters of two separate books.
  • The Hero's Journey: Bao's story quite brutally subverts it. We begin with Farm Boy Bao in his little village in rural China, before he hears the Call to Adventure when he sees whites and Christian converts persecuting the Chinese. Mentors Red Latern Chu and Master Big Belly guide him on his quest to become a Kung-fu master before he finally sets out to lead the rebellion against the whites... where he becomes an Axe-Crazy Knight Templar who wantonly kills the innocent when they stand in his way, and loses massively when the Boxers finally encounter Western armies in their fullest.
  • Historical-Domain Character: A given considering the story, though in particular the German diplomat mentioned below is Clemens von Ketteler. Prince Tuan is a also major supporting character, while Empress Dowager Cixi is mentioned in the background.
  • Jerk Ass: how Father Bey comes across in "Boxers." In "Saints" he's more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Yu, the bandit who tries to take more dumplings than he's paid for and who brings Father Bey into the village is a more clear-cut example, as is the German diplomat who beats Bing Wong-Bing.
  • Killed Off for Real: Nearly every major character in both books, barring Bao and Second Brother.
  • Kill It with Fire: All of the women and children praying in the church, as well as Mei Wen and the foreign scholar in the library.
  • La Résistance: The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, and the Red Lanterns.
  • Love Interest: Mei in Boxers, and Kong in Saints.
  • Magic Realism: The most earthy sort of poverty and the most ruthless sort of politics coincide with strange, mystical places, the gods of the opera, and visions of saints.
  • The Mentor: Red Lantern Chu and Master Big Belly.
  • Moral Event Horizon: When Little Bao killed the girl from the train, it all went downhill.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, Red Lanterns, Foreign and Secondary Devils.
  • Oh, Crap!: when the Society burns the library down in order to get access to the European quarter...only to notice that the Europeans are smiling at them. Cue a squad of Sepoys pointing their guns at them...
    • He earlier has one when he realizes that the foreign devils hidden in a church are all women and children, who he previously refused to kill. He ends up forcing himself to go through with burning the church and killing them, believing that otherwise any of them may come back for revenge.
  • Playing with Fire: Little Bao, both literally and figuratively.
  • Posthumous Narration: Vibiana in Saints.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: The girl on the train. She comes back after Bao let her go and avenges her brother by murdering Bao's. This convinces Bao that sparing his enemies is "weakness."
  • Super Mode: The possessed forms of the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists and Red Lanterns.
  • Red Is Heroic: Red Lantern Chu, and the colors the Red Lanterns chose to symbolize themselves.
  • Tagalong Kid: Initially Little Bao, then Bing Wong-Bing late into Boxers.
  • Together in Death: A non-romantic example. Dr. Won throws himself in front of Father Bey to save his life. Tearfully, Father Bey realizes he was wrong to reject the Doctor, and begs God for forgiveness as the Boxers close in.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Little Bao.
  • Villain Protagonist: Later, Little Bao goes from an honorable outlaw defending the lives, property, and dignity of the people against bandits to a terrorist slaughtering Christians and Westerners for diverging from mainstream Chinese culture.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The First Emperor, who is loyal to China above any moral or ethical restraints. Little Bao, eventually. The author even likens him to a terrorist near the end.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Mei does not take it well when she learns that Little Bao intends to burn down the library, which she previously described to him as a place filled with irreplaceable books and knowledge.
  • Yin-Yang Clash: Yin is believed to be basically poisonous.
  • You Are Number 6: Four-Girl, a cruel name given by a family that never wanted her.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists starts with the best of intentions and the most honorable of motives. It ends in blood and fire, having brought nothing but ruin and trouble to the Chinese people.
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