At the turn of the 20th century, a Chinese fighting society believing itself insusceptible to alien weaponry waged war on foreign influences in Beijing. The Boxers, as they were known, eventually gained the support of the Empress Dowager and, for 55 days, they and the Imperial Army of China kept foreign nationals, diplomats, and Chinese Christians corralled in an area just east of Tiananmen Square. The siege was only lifted through the intervention of eight countries and 20,000 troops. While not much is made of the Boxer Rebellion in the West, it was a fulcrum in China's self-titled “Century of Humiliation.” In Gene Luen Yang's gorgeous dyptic, Boxers & Saints, the Bay Area graphic novelist explores this event, first through the eyes and heart of Little Bao, who joins the Boxers, then through Vibiana, who gives up her Chinese name to join missionaries after being rejected by her family. This is Yang's second book nominated for a National Book Award (his American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel ever to receive the honor) and rightly so. It is a deft and touching exploration of personal identity, culture, religion, and the necessity of compassion.
Sat., Feb. 1, 2 p.m., 2014