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Comic Book / Boxers & Saints

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"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:

  • 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: The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, Vibiana (only because she chose it herself), and Red Lantern all have really cool names.
  • 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. However, his entire group was wiped out, except for him and his remaining brother, and their rebellion was crushed.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: A given considering the story, though in particular the German diplomat is Clemens von Ketteler. Prince Tuan is a also major supporting character, while Empress Dowager Cixi is mentioned in the background. Dr. Won either is or is heavily inspired by St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a real saint with a near identical life story.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, the way the girl he'd refused to kill went on to murder one of his brothers.
  • 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."
  • 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 wish to deal a blow to corrupt Chinese society being hegemonized by foreign powers. Later, he becomes a Knight Templar after receiving counsel and visions of The First Emperor who drove him to kill innocents, and even burned down a library that claimed the life of his Love Interest. While he survived to the end of the story, Little Bao chanted the Christian prayer to prevent being shot by foreign soldiers rather than face death. Thus making his entire effort as All for Nothing.
  • 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, 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 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.


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