Gene Yang talks with Publishers Weekly about his latest books, BOXERS and SAINTS, out this month from First Second Books:

“Gene Luen Yang, author of the acclaimed graphic novel AMERICAN BORN CHINESE (shortlisted for the American Book Award), returns with two books that work in tandem: BOXERS and SAINTS.

“In BOXERS, Yang tells the story of little Bao, a young Chinese boy who sees arrogant Catholic missionaries destroy Chinese religious idols and watches British soldiers brutally beat his father. He eventually joins the Boxers, who combined traditional martial arts training with mysticism, and believed that not only were they impervious to harm but that they could call spirit soldiers from the heavens to fight alongside them.

“In the companion volume, SAINTS — the covers of both books are designed to combine in a beautiful graphic tableau when set face-out, side by side — we meet Four-Girl, a “devil” girl and misfit, always in trouble, who repeatedly sees a vision of Joan of Arc and converts, though, as in all things, for her own quirky and not completely pious reasons.

“Yang’s interest in the subject was piqued when Pope John Paul II canonized about 80 Chinese martyrs in 2000, and he noticed most of the saints were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901). This led him to create what turned into two graphic novels set in the period — his first works of historical graphic fiction. Yang, who is Catholic, said he and his Chinese Catholic community in the (San Francisco) Bay Area were excited at the time, but “the Chinese government protested the canonizations because the ‘Saints’ are seen as traitors who betrayed Eastern culture.” But Yang notes, “This conflict resonated with me—speaking Chinese and talking about Jesus—it embodies the same inner struggle I was facing between faith and culture.”

“Yang says he sees parallels between the Boxers — young, poor, and powerless Chinese peasants — and modern geek/comic book culture, which also sees itself as alienated from the mainstream. “Most of the Boxers were introduced to the exploits of colorful and powerful Chinese gods by Chinese operas. They were like the comic book superheroes of today. I was sucked into comics by my own disempowerment and found personal power through these powerful comic book characters.” The Saints, he said, were much the same: poor, marginalized, and brutally dismissed from mainstream Chinese society. Early Chinese Christians, he said, were like manga fans in the U.S. looking to find themselves in other cultures. “Early Chinese converts to Christianity were often women and criminals, people with no place in Chinese society,” Yang says, noting that his mother is a modern-day Christian convert; “I pulled a lot of stories about converts from my Catholic community.” and Saints, the story of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, told through the lives of two young Chinese from the early part of the century. The two books fuse history and fable to tell the story of the rebellion from both sides: that of the “Boxers,” an uprising of messianic young men from the countryside determined to drive foreigners and Catholic missionaries out of China, and the story of the “Saints,” the Chinese converts and Catholic missionaries targeted and often massacred by the Boxers, who see them as oppressors.”
Publishers Weekly, 30 May 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s