Boxers & Saints

In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful. But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity. Boxers & Saints offers a penetrating insight into not only one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history, but into the very core of our human nature. - Grades 7 & Up Boxers & Saints Teaching Guide:
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
First Second
New York, NY
ISSN Number
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)


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Boxer's and Saints: Two Sides of the Same Story

Field of Interest/Specialty: East Asia/HS English Teacher
Posted On: 05/05/2019

Boxers and Saints is a graphic novel historical fiction of the Boxer Rebellion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I knew nothing of the Boxer Rebellion other than its name. I don't even know if I could have told you what country it occurred in prior to reading these books. Through reading Boxers and Saints I came to a much better understanding of this rebellion and what it meant to China and to how it shaped China's future.
I read Boxers first which follows the story of Bao, a Chinese boy, who watches as Christian foreign devils and their converts destroy the symbols of his belief and kill whomever stands against them. He is visited by one of China's gods and gathers a group of like minded young men to fight and kill these intruders with the ultimate goal of expelling them from China and reclaiming their heritage. It is a bloody story that leads them to Beijing and direct confrontation with the white foreign devils.
Saints follows a young girl, Four-Girl, who is basically an outcast in her family. She finds a true family in the Chinese Christians living in her village. She is visited by the ghost of Joan of Arc and dedicates herself to Catholicism and renames herself Vibiana. She then becomes a missionary helping at an orphanage.
I found both books to be sad and enlightening. I felt for both characters and it saddened me to see so much violence and brutality. Yang does a wonderful job of portraying this without being too graphic; however, it is still graphic. This is not a book for elementary and middle school students. I would even be cautious with ninth graders. While I do think they would be drawn into the books and learn a great deal from them, you will have to judge whether your students are mature enough to handle the images and themes these books explore. Overall, this would be a great set to have in a classroom or school library or to use in literature circles, but I do not know if I would teach it as a class set.
I had a hard time personally with these books because of how angry they made me. I was angry with the Europeans for their egotistical opinion that they were better than the Chinese and therefore had the right to treat them as inferior and I was angry with the Chinese that they could not allow the Chinese Christians to follow their faith in peace. Yang does an excellent job of portraying both sides with fairness showing both the good and evil of the Boxers and the Saints.

Boxers & Saints Historical Fiction

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 11/14/2017

Georgiann McLellan, Resource Teacher K - 8, Queen of Angels Catholic School
Middle School, Grades 6 - 8
Gene Luen Yang has written a truly masterful graphic novel in Boxers & Saints. He incorporates meticulously researched history while engaging the reader through word and illustration by exploring the events of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of two children on differing sides of the conflict. Both children want to help China, and both struggle with finding and maintaining their chosen path.
Boxers and Saints provides an example of historical fiction at its best. We are the products of the world around us. The stories, songs, myths, and faiths we grow up with and hold as true, the political and economic situations we find ourselves in – all are essential in defining who and what we are.
As a medium for middle school and high school, the graphic novel motivates both the avid and the reluctant reader by bridging both interest and engagement with an easy vocabulary around 5th grade 5th month and illustrations that add details and dimensions beyond the text. However, the same verbal and visual imagery that encourages reading also has aided Boxers & Saints to be included on many banned book lists. While the pictures are disturbingly violent and the text sometimes insulting and alarming, the sophistication of the books are in the questions with which our students must wrestle, the realities of war. Why is it we see certain actions as extremist in nature while other actions we see as justifiable?
This allows teachers to use any number of graphic organizers. Venn diagrams could be employed to chart the positive things the two main characters did for their communities while cause and effect boxes could be used to follow the negative things they did to others as they responded to persecution and humiliation. Pro and con sheets could be used during a discussion of imperial colonialism. While a KWL would be well suited to help in a close reading about the historical aspects of Boxer Rebellion versus the fictional aspects of the story set within its context.
Used in either a support role or the main event, Yang’s Boxers & Saints are a cross curricular text enhancing both the language arts world content and the historical content. For faculty using core curriculum, the books fit very nicely under: Key ideas and details: Citing textual evidence to support analysis and inference, determining a theme or central idea, describing how a plot unfolds, analyzing how particular elements of the story interact; analyzing how particular lines of dialogue or incidents of a text reveal aspects of a character or provoke a decision; analyzing a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1, 6.2,6.3
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.1, 7.2, 7.3
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL8.1, 8.2, 8.3
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1, 9-10.2, 9-10.3

Boxers and Saints: A Telling of the Boxer Rebellion from Opposing Perspectives

Field of Interest/Specialty: Reading/Language Arts
Posted On: 11/11/2017

Posted by: Janet S. Lohr, 7th Grade Reading/Language Arts, Musselman Middle School
Boxers and Saints explains the Boxer Rebellion from the opposing views of the two main characters. It is two books in a set, each telling the same story from a different point of view. Not only does it show both sides of the rebellion, it does so in graphic novel format. However, this is not a children’s comic book. Instead, it is a sensitive and honest portrayal of a violent part of China’s history.
When I read about the Boxer Rebellion in my textbook, I learned the facts, nothing more. However, when I read Boxers and Saints, I understood why the rebellion occurred and how it affected the individuals involved. It personalized the facts in a way that a textbook cannot. The graphic format showed the emotions on the characters’ faces, the devastation of battle, the reality of the hatred in a way that words alone could not. I read Saints first, and I felt anger toward the Boxers. How could they slaughter innocent people, including members of their own families, because they believed the Westerners were robbing China of its culture? Then, I read Boxers, and I felt some compassion; I sympathized with their desire to save their nation. I still didn’t agree with their methods, but I better understood their reasons.
Would I use Boxers and Saints in my seventh-grade classroom? No. Some of the language and topics are too mature for my students. However, I could use portions of it to explain Chinese history and culture. I have read other graphic novels by this author, and he does have some that are more age appropriate. Perhaps, I could use a combination of his works to introduce my students to China and its people.

Graphic Novels as a Learning Tool in the Classroom: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Field of Interest/Specialty: Librarian/Technology
Posted On: 01/03/2016

Kate Weber
PK-5 Librarian
Winchester Thurston School, North Hills Campus
Book Review—Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Graphic novels are very popular with my 2nd-5th grade readers, and it’s no mystery why that is—they convey a large amount of information and plot through the combination of pictures and text on the page, capturing even the most reluctant reader’s attention. I myself love graphic novels, so I eagerly picked up the two-box set of Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang. Before reading these books, I had almost no knowledge of the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th century. The graphic-novel format of these two volumes made the plot much easier to understand, especially for someone with little knowledge of this time period. The two volumes tell two different perspectives of the conflict.
Boxers is the story of Bao, a poor Chinese boy from a small village. He grows up watching foreign soldiers and missionaries rob and kill Chinese peasants. After meeting a mysterious figure and undergoing a training of sorts, Bao begins to imagine (or does he?) that he can become an ancient Chinese god by performing a simple ritual. He recruits family members and friends to join him in his mission to defeat the “foreign devils” that come into his village and attempt to convert people to Christianity. He and the rest of the “Righteous and Harmonious Fist” roam the countryside, killing the foreign devils as well as the “secondary devils” (Chinese converts to Christianity). Along the way he meets Mai-Wen, whom he develops a crush on, despite trying to remain steadfast in his goal of ridding the countryside of the evil. She eventually joins him on his crusade, leading her own group of followers. Bao ultimately arrives at the capital, Peking, and it is there that his journey meets a bloody end.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, who grows up in a home that doesn’t value her skills (and they can’t even come up with a name for her, other than naming her after the number of girls that have been born to the family). She is also from a small Chinese village (and coincidentally she and Bao come into contact briefly when they are both very young). Four-Girl finds refuge in the Chinese Christians who live in her village, and finds guidance from the ghost of Joan of Arc, whose historical storyline mirrors Four-Girl’s own. Four-Girl is baptized in the Christian faith, and renames herself Vibiana. Eventually, she meets up with Bao at the end of the story, and he forces her to choose to renounce her religion or die by his hand.
By telling two parallel stories of the Boxer Rebellion, the author presents an objective perspective. Who is correct: Bao and his band of village soldiers, who have ancient Chinese gods on their side? Or is it Vibiana and the Christian missionaries and converts, who fight for their own beliefs? Both sides use whatever they have at their mercy to fight for what they believe in, and both sides kill without much thought to the consequences of their actions. I was in awe of the sheer violence at the hands of members of both sides. Seeing it in animated form on the page really makes an impact and shows the reader that there was really no true winner in this conflict.
After reading both novels, I came away with a large amount of knowledge about the violent and bloody time period known as the Boxer Rebellion. These books spare no detail when it comes to the violence that both groups were inflicting, which is why this set is not intended for elementary students. Because of this, I could not use this in my own classroom. Even for young adult readers the content may be a bit disturbing at times, but I believe the overall impact and resonance of the work makes this a valuable part of a high school curriculum. It’s especially relevant to modern times, when our own country’s religious, racial, and political divisions echo the split between Bao and Vibiana. This set could be used as a text in a study of current events as well as a study of historical events, not to mention in a unit on point of view and subjectivity. It is accessible, poignant, and devastating—which is the mark of a good curricular text.