Follow TV Tropes


Comic Book / Boxers & Saints

Go To

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

Boxers and Saints are two Historical Fiction companion graphic novels written by Gene Luen Yang, released together on September 10, 2013, taking place in late 1890s China during the Boxer Rebellion.

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 converts to Christianity, taking on the name Vibiana.

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:

  • Aborted Arc: When Hong Kao-ling is killed, the others wonder how he could have died as he was in the form of Chu Ba-jei. When other members of the society are killed later, it's never brought up again.
  • The Ace: Red Lantern Chu is a great martial artist who teaches his ways to Bao and the other boys from the village, and Bao idolizes him deeply. This makes his execution all the more shocking and devastating to Bao.
  • Action Girl: Mei-wen and all of the Red Lanterns are just as skilled at martial arts as the men. Vibiana also aspires to be a "maiden warrior" like Joan of Arc and has one of the seminaries, Kong, teach her how to use a sword.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Second Brother comes back for Bao after all the Boxers are slain, due to the peach blossom tree vow they made. What they plan to do and where they plan to go is unknown.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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, originally appearing from the mystic vision stored in Master Big Belly's navel.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: When the Muslim soldiers of the Kansu Braves pray, the speech bubbles show them reciting the first chapter of the Qur'an in Arabic script... with the letters arranged backwards and sans cursive.
  • Atrocious Alias: Four-Girl, which both dehumanizes her and blames her for all her family's troubles.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Vibiana chose her own name.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the shared finale for both stories, Little Bao is Not Quite Dead, as he manages to crawl out of the corpse pile and escapes another death by chanting half-remembered scripture that Vibiana gave to him. But Vibiana is dead, his entire group was wiped out save for him and his remaining brother, and their rebellion was crushed.
  • 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, as a fragment of a prayer she taught him is what keeps Bao from being executed, 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 initially seems like an odd sort, forcing Bao to do seemingly pointless exercises and plant beans for him instead of actually training him. But the "cool" part is that he holds all of the gods in his stomach, rather than food, and unleashes them once Bao needs his help.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Bao sees Red Lantern Chu's head on a pole carried by the imperial army after his execution.
  • 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.
  • Defiant to the End: Vibiana refused to renounce her faith unto death, even refusing to say her original name, Four Girl.
  • 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". When they briefly meet as children, Little Bao compares it to the face of an opera mask and thinks how 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.
    • In Saints, Vibiana is slain along with local Christians as she refuses to denounce her faith, with her last witness to Joan's spirit is of her being burned at the stake.
  • Driven to Suicide: Vibiana's father hanged himself because he continually had nightmares of his time following Hong Xiuquan, the Taiping Rebellion leader who believed himself the brother of Jesus Christ.
  • Evil All Along: Not that Yu was morally upright to begin with, but the Saints part of the storyline reveals that he's actually a bandit leader who converted to Catholicism solely as a way to escape the law, but continued to wear the cross even after he was expelled by Father Bey.
  • Fat Bastard: Master Big Belly, Bao's harsh teacher who somehow keeps fat despite the famine consuming the land. This turns out to be because he holds the mystic vision of the gods inside his belly.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Bao and Vibiana first saw each other as children when she was going with her mother to see Dr. Won to treat her "devil face". Though Bao immediately recognizes her when they meet again, Vibiana does not recall it and claims she has never met him before.
  • 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".
  • French Jerk: Father Bey, the judgmental and intolerant (at first) priest, originally came from France.
  • Functional Addict: Dr. Won has been able to perform his duties as a doctor even as an opium addict, which in turn was to control his stomach pain.
  • 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, judgmental, condescending, 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. In many ways, the two stories mirror one another, with the same priest who upended Bao's life and brought bad fortune to his village providing salvation from Vibiana's miserable life with her abusive family.
  • 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: Many of them, considering the story's time period.
    • The most relevant ones are Qin Shi Huangdi, known as the First Emperor, who guides Bao and influences him for the worse, and Joan of Arc, who serves as inspiration for Vibiana.
    • The German diplomat who appears in Boxers is Clemens von Ketteler, and Prince Tuan is a major supporting character who provides refuge to the Boxers. Empress Dowager Cixi is mentioned in the background.
    • Dr. Won in Saints either is or is heavily inspired by St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a real saint with a near-identical life story. Hong Xiuquan is also shown in flashback, as Vibiana's father was a follower of his.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: While the Boxers' attitude towards Christians, especially Chinese converts, is shown accurately, the Boxers are generally shown as trying to be the protectors of non-Christian Chinese. The real-life Boxers often attacked, robbed, or kidnapped civilians regardless of their religion. There's also less emphasis on the Boxers' hatred of any new technology that had been introduced to China, which often led to them destroying telegram systems, railroads, and hospitals.
  • Jerkass: 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. In Saints, he's the leader of the bandits who was using his new religion as a way to escape the law before being excommunicated by Father Bey once his intent was exposed. He even mutilated Kong's face after he refused to rejoin his gang.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Father Bey is introduced in Boxers supporting a greedy bandit and self-righteously smashing the community's local god while shouting in broken Chinese about Jesus Christ, cementing in Bao's mind that Westerners are high-handed troublemakers out to destroy his culture, and that Christianity is the oppressive religion of the foreigner. But a later section of the story reveals that Father Bey cut off the bandit after realizing that he was a fair-weather convert who only wanted special privileges and was treating confession as a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card, and Saints digs deeply into his character, showing off both his stubborn, condescending, and judgmental side, and his honest compassion and courage in the face of death.
  • Kill 'Em All: Nearly every major character in both books is dead by the end, 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-wen is this to Bao in Boxers. Despite the edict of the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists to never lust for women, he develops a crush on her. To a lesser extent, Kong is also this to Vibiana in Saints—she notes she feels a "strange fluttering" whenever she's around him, but doesn't admit to her feelings.
  • 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.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never really clear if the gods of the opera are truly there with the Boxers or not. On one hand, Bao sees them unleashed by Master Big Belly and has visions of the First Emperor frequently, even seeing a flashback to the Emperor's past that he logically wouldn't know about because he doesn't read books. The other Boxers also claim to see themselves and each other in the gods' forms. On the other hand, nobody else ever interacts with Master Big Belly, who dies immediately after freeing the gods, and the Boxers still easily die from being shot, despite being ostensibly possessed by the divine.
  • The Mentor: Red Lantern Chu trains Bao in martial arts, and Master Big Belly provides the gods of the opera that aid him in his quest.
  • Meaningful Name: The name of the saint that Four-Girl chooses, Vibiana, reveals a stark contrast with the saint of whom she has visions, Joan of Arc. Whereas Joan of Arc has arguably the most famous story of any female saint in Catholicism, Saint Vibiana's story is barely known: all that's left of her in the annals is really just that she existed. Vibiana is meant to be the saint who speaks for the unknown and forgotten, the ones who have influenced the world in subtle ways even if the knowledge of how they did so is lost to time. This ultimately comes into play at the end of Saints, when a Christian prayer that this story's Vibiana has taught Bao goes on to save his life.
  • Missing Mom: Little Bao's mother is never seen or mentioned.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, Red Lanterns, Foreign and Secondary Devils.
  • Noble Bigot: Father Bey genuinely wants to help the Chinese, but came to China in the first place because he believed they were barbarians and heathens.
  • 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, the way the girl he'd refused to kill went on to murder one of his brothers.
  • Playing with Fire: When asked by the First Emperor what his element out of the classic Chinese elements—wood, metal, earth, fire, and water—is, Bao chooses fire. Because of this, he becomes the spirit of a new, nascent dynasty rather than the First Emperor and appears to be wreathed in flames.
  • Posthumous Narration: Vibiana in Saints, as she narrates everything that leads up to how she died and remarks on it when the story reaches the point of her death.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: The entire point of Little Bao's story is this, as he goes from a well-intentioned and kind boy who truly wants to save China from corruption to a ruthless, murderous terrorist who—at the word of the First Emperor—kills anyone and everyone in his way.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Father Bey's righteous nature caused a scuffle between him and a not-as-pious Bishop, in addition to his disdain for decadence in France, which caused him to be assigned as a missionary to China.
  • Red Is Heroic: Red Lantern Chu, and the colors the Red Lanterns chose to symbolize themselves.
  • 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."
  • Splash of Color: In Saints, Joan of Arc is gold while everything else is in black-and-white.
  • Super Mode: The possessed forms of the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists and Red Lanterns.
  • Tagalong Kid: Initially Little Bao, then Bing Wong-Bing late into Boxers.
  • Tragic Hero: Little Bao. Initially, he was an idealist who wanted to save his people from the corrupt Chinese government and foreign invaders. Later, he becomes a Knight Templar after receiving counsel and visions from the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who drove him to kill innocents, and even burned down a library that claimed the life of his Love Interest. He survives after his entire group is killed in battle, but it's only by chanting a prayer from Vibiana, the Christian girl he killed for refusing to denounce her faith, to trick the soldiers into thinking he's a convert and not a Boxer that he lives. His entire journey to save China was ultimately All for Nothing.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Wu brings Father Bey to get revenge on Bao's father, Bey destroys the idol of Tu Di Gong, Bao's father goes to complain to the magistrate and is nearly beaten to death by white soldiers. All these plant the seeds of hatred that result in Bao wanting to rid China of all foreigners.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Little Bao starts off as a sweet-natured young boy who adores the fairs in his village, loves the operas, and is teased by his older brothers. He ends the story as a murderous Knight Templar who kills both foreigners and Chinese alike.
  • Villain Protagonist: Little Bao goes from an honorable outlaw defending the lives, property, and dignity of the people against bandits to a terrorist slaughtering Chinese converts for diverging from traditional culture.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, 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 Happened to the Mouse?: Mei-mei isn't seen again after Mei-wen joins the Boxers.
    • It's unknown what became of Bing Wong-bing after the Boxers are wiped out.
  • 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 and blames her for all their troubles.
  • 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.