Boxers & Saints

[Cross-posted from New Books in Christian Studies] I love picking up a historical monograph in which the footnotes count for a quarter or more of the total pages. Most students don’t share this strange love of mine. I’m therefore always trying to figure out ways to bring in other sorts of works that will engage students without giving up anything in terms of historical richness or depth of thought. To this end, I often assign “graphic histories” in my classes (aka comics). One that I recently used in class, and was deeply impressed with, was Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints (First Second, 2013)This informative, thought-provoking, and deeply moving graphic history is set during the “Boxer Rebellion” (1898-1900), a massive anti-foreign and anti-Christian movement that rocked northern China. Each of the two volumes of this work focus on a different character, one an anti-Christian and anti-foreign Boxer leader, and the other a Chinese convert to Catholicism. Skillfully weaving these stories together, Gene Luen Yang provides a fascinating meditation on war, the meaning of heroism and sainthood, Chinese identity, and faith, all historically grounded in a careful reading of secondary sources by such great Chinese historians as Joseph Esherick and Paul Cohen.