“And when we do, we shall either be brothers in arms or mortal enemies, depending on whether the Empress’s desire is realized.”
Little Bao, the youngest son of a villager in the Northern Shantung Province, falls on the receiving end of an invasion of the English military forces – both on a political and personal level. Unable to tolerate the bullying and violent ways of these “foreign devils”, he steps up and leads a rebellion for his country. This story is loosely based on the Boxer Rebellion of the early 1900s in China.
Little Bao, Conflicted Warrior…
He starts off as the archetype of the weakling-to-hero, the unexpected hero with a pure heart. As the story continues, however, his character begins to portray the human condition. Despite being grounded in edicts and morals (or constantly claiming to be), life does not go as planned. And as with life, Bao struggles between the lives in front of him and the naggings of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of China and the Chinese Guardian warrior he borrows strength from in battle.
While swayed by the compassion for his fellow brothers and sisters in battle, he ends up caving into the constant taunts from the spirit Qin and his refusal to see life as a bigger scheme of things ends up turning against him – a point in the lesson of the need for balance.
Mei-Wen, Fighting Scholar…
Though only more prominent towards the end of the book, I felt as if Mei-wen was the Yin to counteract against Bao’s Yang in order to maintain balance. Like Bao, her loyalty to the country is strong, despite how even supporting officials pay no heed to or scowl at her because of her gender.
She also seems to represent the other side of the scale – strength is nothing without knowledge. Her constant fight to keep values and the stories of China strong (especially during the burning of the library) shows her as the wise leader people needed to look up to, on top of pure brute and physical strength.
Bao and Mei-Wen were just ordinary people fighting for an extraordinary cause, seeing further than themselves. Apart from the fire they feel from their passion, spiritual courage plays a major role in their battles as well – the strength and courage coming from the Chinese Gods, coupled with the faith of their believers.
I believe this was a major theme running through Boxers. The importance of knowledge, morality, and integrity were placed opposite brute strength and fighting skill – the Yin and Yang energies balanced against each other for the desired result. These are more significantly shown through scenes between Bao and Mei-Wen, especially during their discussions on helping the needy and the stories China was built on through the ages.
Argument against Patriarchism…
Despite the obstacles shown against women in this story (“polluted by Yin”), it is often overturned with the appearance of the Sisterhood, under the command of Mei-Wen. The portrayals of significant women in Chinese history (Guan Yin, Mu Gui Ying, the Empress Dowager) empowers women in an age or a culture known for patriarchy and further reinforces the need for balance in every situation.
Complexity of the human condition…
To paraphrase John Green, truth does resist simplicity. While many people may argue that the lack of interference may just solve all problems, the reality of things is that there is no one way of going about with it. I’ll cover this issue more in Boxers’s sister novel.
Style & Structure
As a graphic novel, the pictures really do tell a thousand words here.
The author keeps a very clean style of storytelling, where the aesthetics are presentable but maintains its intended impact. Marketed together with a sister book – Saints, which tells the other side of the story (by another Chinese person in the same environment), this further brings out the message of balance to the audience.
There is nothing in reality that just has one side.
In the meantime…
See you next week!