Boxers is a historical graphic novel written and drawn by Gene Leun Yang.
Except it’s more than that. There’s a heady amount of magical realism when our protagonist Bao, a Chinese peasant, learns how to temporarily transform himself and three of his fellow villagers into gods. This ability is very useful when dealing with a civil war and foreign incursions…
Boxers is set during the Boxer Rebellion, which I understand was a militarised struggle for Chinese sovereignty in the first decade of the last century. To go into more detail may be a bit spoilery, considering the educational aims of this book. And you will learn about Chinese history if you read this book, and if the acknowledgements Yang gives at the end are anything to go by, he’s done his research. The storyline is defined by history, as Yang shows us how a sympathetic young man can become the sort of extremist we fear.
The art style was beautiful. At first I thought the stylized curves of the lines would make it harder to empathise with Yang’s characters, but then I realised that it was fantastic. The closest point of comparison I can think of at the moment is Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, although Yang’s art is more accessible and therefore better.
Boxers is part of a pair of books dealing with rebellion, the other a book called Saints about a Christian Chinese girl. I’ll have to read that soon.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It would fit particularly well on an English curriculum designed for fourteen to sixteen year olds, as it deals with complex issues of history and radicalisation in a format that would not intimidate those uncomfortable with longer prose novels. (Why aren’t there more comics in classrooms? I guess that’s a thought for another day.) Anyway, I don’t care how old you are, you should read this book.