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Earle, Harriet E. H. "“The Sky Is Darkened by Gods”. Spirituality, Strength, and Violence in Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints." In: Cultures of War in Graphic Novels. Violence, Trauma, and Memory. Hrsg. v. Tatiana Prorokova und Nimrod Tal. New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2018.
|Resource type: Book Article
BibTeX citation key: Earle2018
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Keywords: "Boxers", "Saints", Gewalt, Historische Themen, USA, Yang. Gene Luen
Creators: Earle, Prorokova, Tal
Publisher: Rutgers Univ. Press (New Brunswick)
Collection: Cultures of War in Graphic Novels. Violence, Trauma, and Memory
In 1900, the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist led an uprising in northern China against the spread of foreign (mostly Western and Japanese) influence. The uprising became known as the Boxer Rebellion (named after the rebels’ use of martial arts and callisthenics); the rebels killed foreigners and Chinese Christians. Although the rebellion lasted barely two years, over 100,000 people were killed and China was forced to pay £330 million in reparations to foreign powers. Gene Luen Yang’s two-volume history of the Boxer Rebellion, Boxers and Saints, tells the story of two individuals caught on opposite sides of the conflict: Little Bao, a boy from Shandong who becomes a prominent leader of the Boxers and Four-Girl, a girl from the same village who becomes a Catholic, adopts the name ‘Vibiana’, and is martyred by Little Bao. The two works sit in close relationship with each other – Yang’s decision to tell both sides of the story equally shows that he does not claim one side is the ‘right’ one. Indeed, this issue of whether or not there is a clear division of right and wrong is never resolved and both characters are shown to be flawed in equal measure. This paper will consider the representation of this largely unheard of conflict in Yang’s work, with specific focus on his discussion of spirituality and its relationship to violence. For Little Bao and the Boxers, harnessing the power of the ancient Chinese gods through meditation, ritual and ‘spirit possession’, which involved ‘the whirling of swords, violent prostrations, and chanting incantations to Taoist and Buddhist spirits’. Four-Girl/Vibiana’s story follows her conversion to Catholicism and her visions of St Joan of Arc. In stark contrast to the meditation and ritual of the Boxers, which imbued them with the strength and power of the gods, Vibiana’s journey of faith appears bleak. However, as I will argue, both sides of the story use spirituality as a means of gaining personal strength and as a tool for both the engagement with and survival of violent conflict. Using a combination of historical and cultural background information, comics theory and close analysis of the two texts, I will argue that Boxers and Saints show that spirituality and violence are closely linked in representations of the Boxer rebellion and that it is through these two themes that Yang finds common ground between the characters of Little Bao and Four-Girl.
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