“Boxers and Saints” by Gene Luen Yang is an effective tool for teaching the events of the Boxer Rebellion in a nonspecific, entertaining way. This graphic novel set is best used by students that either do not need to know the fine details of the rebellion and just need to know the overarching concepts, or already know what occurred and need another creative way to approach the material. However, students should use additional resources when reading the graphic novel. The “Boxers” book follows the character of Little Bao to tell the tale of the Boxers using fantastical elements to provide the Boxer perspective during the conflict. For example, the ritual causes a physical change in the Boxers, this provides a visual on how the Boxers saw themselves after their spiritual possessions. The fact that Little Bao is possessed by the first emperor of China tells the reader that the Boxers supported traditionalism. Of course no physical change occurred in real life, but the transformation works well as a metaphor. The narrative uses fictional characters to portray actual actors in the Boxer Rebellion, so a student that only needs to know the poor, rural people stood up to the westernization of China would be encouraged to read this graphic novel. However, if a student were to need more detail and facts about the events in question, they should look elsewhere for more academic works. For students reading the graphic novel, it is massively important to know not all characters and events in the set actually happened, some are merely relatable ways to portray difficult concepts, like the opera masked girl, her existence is simply a way to show the sacrifices the Boxer had to make for their country. “Boxers and Saints” by Gene Luen Yang would be best used in an early high school/middle school classroom, provided the teacher is there to point out the true and the made up. Any classes of higher grades should have additional readings to appropriately cover the Boxer Rebellion. In other words, readers should readers should enjoy the graphic novel, but they should also have a more trustworthy source to be able to identify the important points in the text, something like “History in Three Keys” by Paul Cohen.
Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. Boxers and Saints: Boxed Set. New York: First Second, 2013.