In two companion novels, Yang tells the story of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China from the perspective of a member of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists and the perspective of a Chinese Christian. These National Book Award recognized graphic novels are violent, though-provoking, challenging, and perhaps even inspiring. Yang exposes both virtue and corruption in characters on both sides of this historical tragedy, while violence undermines, propels, but ultimately balks before spirituality. I would recommend these novels (which must be read together, in the order listed) to anyone who enjoys truly thought-provoking historical/war fiction—and who doesn’t mind a fair bit of violence.
Bao grew up loving the opera stories of the ancient Chinese gods. When he sees his a foreign Catholic priest smash a statue of one of his gods, he is infuriated. His father goes on a journey to seek justice for the actions of the foreigner and the Chinese Christians (“secondary devils”) who were with him, but the foreign army beats him nearly to death. In response, Bao joins a secret society which vows to honor the ancient Chinese traditions, protect their families, and eradicate the devils (foreign and Chinese) from their land. Through a cleansing ritual, Bao and his brethren become possessed by the ancient gods when the fight. They are all but invincible. But as they through travel China, slaughtering foreigners and secondary devils, Bao finds that his values are frequently called into question as he struggles to balance justice and mercy. And when a woman wishes to join their order, he must decide whether he accepts the ancient belief that too much involvement with women can taint a man’s soul.
Four Girl has grown up without a name, the only one of her mother’s children to survive infancy and believed by her grandfather to be cursed. Deciding she will live up to her nickname as a “devil,” Four Girl makes horrible faces whenever anyone looks at her. Her mother takes her to an acupuncturist to be healed of her “devil face.” The kind man “heals” her by making her laugh. But Four Girl is intrigued by the crucifix on the man’s wall. She begins asking him questions about Christianity. After having several visions of the Christian warrior woman Joan of Arc, Four Girl decides to convert to Christianity and takes the Christian name Vibiana. But when her family learns of her conversion, they have her beaten. She runs away and seeks refuge at a Christian stronghold. In her new life, Vibiana feels called to pursue justice and protect her Christian community from the violence that threatens it. Thinking it an obvious course of action given her calling, she starts training to be a warrior maiden like Joan. But Vibiana’s calling may not be as simple as she thinks.