Preview Gene Luen Yang's new project Boxers & Saints

This. Is. Awesome. Wired.com has posted a exclusive 10-page preview and interview with award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang on his latest project Boxers & Saints. It's a two-volume historical fiction piece about the Boxer Rebellion. The first volume takes the Boxers' perspective, while the second takes the perspective of their Chinese Christian victms. Just judging from these pages, it looks fantastic.

Gene, who grew up in a Chinese Catholic community, says he first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in 2000, when the Roman Catholic Church first canonized 87 Chinese Catholics:

Wired: The format of Boxers & Saints is rather unusual, where you're publishing two separate volumes with shared characters and thematic connections. Why approach the stories in that way?

Gene Yang: I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in 2000. That year, Pope John Paul II canonized 87 Chinese Catholics. This was the first time the Roman Catholic Church has recognized the Chinese in this way. I'm Catholic, and I grew up in a Chinese Catholic community in the Bay Area. My home church was really excited about the canonizations and had all sorts of celebrations.

When I looked into the lives of the Chinese saints, I discovered that many of them had died during the Boxer Rebellion, a war that occurred on Chinese soil in the year 1900. Back then, the Chinese government was incredibly weak. Western powers were able to establish concessions - pieces of land that functioned as colonies – all across China. The poor, hungry, illiterate teenagers living in the Chinese countryside felt embarrassed by their nation's weakness, so they came up with this ritual that they believed would give them mystical powers. Armed with these powers, they marched across their homeland into the major cities, killing European missionaries, merchants, soldiers, and Chinese Christians. Because their martial arts reminded the Europeans of boxing, they became known as the Boxers. John Paul II's canonized saints were among the Boxers' victims.

The more I read about the Boxer Rebellion, the more conflicted I felt. Who were the protagonists here? Who was more deserving of our sympathy? The Boxers or their Chinese Christian victims? When the Vatican announced the canonizations, the Chinese government issued a protest. They believed the Catholic Church was honoring women and men who betrayed their own culture. In many ways, the Boxer Rebellion embodies a conflict that some Asian and Asian American Christians struggle with, a conflict between our Eastern cultural heritage and our Western faith The two volume structure is meant to reflect this conflict. In one volume, the Boxers are the protagonists. In the other, the Chinese Christians are.
I've been huge fan of Gene's since the publication of American Born Chinese -- still one of my favorite books ever. I recall talking with Gene two or three years ago, when he mentioned he was starting to work on this Boxer Rebellion project. I can't wait to see this finished work. Both Boxers and Saints will be released on September 10 from First Second Books. Here are some more pages:

See more pages here. For further information and updates on Gene Luen Yang's work, visit his website.

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