Yang’s books Boxers and Saints, were both captivating and heart retching at the same time. I am not an avid graphic novel reader so I entered into these books a little leery of what to expect. I was surprised how engaging these books were and how if began a discussion in my circles in ways that I wish all books we read would. The history of China is relevant to the world we are all working and living in today; especially as we understand how our own countries have and will play a part in the future.
I am at a campground this week with 11 other people and they have observed me reading these graphic novels. What started as curiosity and turned into a fight for who will read it next. As on today about ½ of the group has read both books with a few more interested in starting. I say this because it has produced a discussion about several aspects found in this book that are subtle enough for some to miss. The first aspect from one of my Hong Kong friends on this trip was the Kungfu fighting style that he observed in Hong Kong growing up called “ShenDa”. Shen means “god” and da means “fight”. He tells me that the Shenda masters open themselves up to the demon possession and take on the power and name of one of the ancient gods. He as observed that while in this state the kungfu Shenda masters are not able to be cut with knives and are given extra strength in a fight. When reading the book on the boxers, there were such similarities between what the boxers were taught and the Shenda masters were able to do. In my first reading this book my western culture told me that this spiritual power was just a symbolic or patriotic expression for those that were rallying against an oppressive regime. To hear my friend’s first hand account of growing up in Hong Kong and seeing this type of fight throws my western mind in a loop. This made me go back to the book and see that there were rituals taught and a choice to open oneself to the power and spirits for the purpose of gaining victory.
There is one other aspect that I am a little leery of writing about but being out of my work country feel as those I can broach it. As I am sure many on you will write about, Tsang History of Hong Kong was a book on the loss of face for a country with a long memory. In the late 1800’s every major power at that time wanted a piece of the China market. The book on Hong Kong wrote a lot about the British and the major issues China had with the British Crown. The truth is that the British were tired of paying so much for the Chinese tea and they wanted a way to be able to not only buy but to sell items in China; like Opium. This lack of respect and push from all major powers resulted in the Opium Wars and later the annex of Hong Kong by British) and Macau (by Portuguese). For the Chinese civilization that has a history of power, creativity, and dominance of its neighbors this was a global slap in the face that has relegated it to a second (or third) class country for many generations. The end of the last century and the beginning of this one, China has emerged as a growing force and the country to watch. This country of 1.6 billion and a growing economy, has the money and wealth to play the long game. For a decade or more, China has been moving up the old silk road, into Africa, South America, and many Asian countries to negotiate deals for long term relationships. I heard someone say last year, “there are Chinese everywhere” and I believe this is by design. I am not a conspiracy theorist but do believe that China is making up for lost time. There is a retribution that desires to balance the shame of the opium wars. All of Chinese live in the Ying /Yang light/ shadow. Life has to be in balance…shame has to be accounted for, even it is done to your forefathers. This balance (or the reversal of shame) is a major agenda of the current administration.
The president (or emperor as some Chinese are calling him) has set goals not to bring about a happy people, or content lifestyle. He has set goals to eradicate poverty by 2020, to building a stronger economy, more powerful military…with the intend not just raising this country to be a superpower in the eyes of the world, but to be the most powerful one. If he is able to gain the public status that this country so desires, then what happens internally is not important. The country’s agenda doesn’t address the growing retirement community, or the educational problems, or the issues of basic care. The people’s happiness is not the most important agenda item; control is. You might say how does all that related to the Boxers and Saints books? It relates because just as Christianity was associated with the foreign devils in the 1880s, it is once again being labeled as a yoke that needs to be overcome in order for us to gain the status they are due. This is a stressful time for all groups working and living in China. The future is unknown and the work that we are all involved in my come to a halt at any point. Jenn, I have so loved and enjoyed the country you live and work. It has been a breath of fresh air that I have needed. This country as well as the one I get to work reminds me that the USA is so young and brash. Many places have a pride and sorrow that lasts many generations. Healing needs to take place not only in individuals but also among the communities where this dishonor is remembered. When the people of God make it a point to cross the normal barriers and forgive, God is able to move in and through that dishonor to bringing healing and one day full restoration.
 Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers and Saints. (First Second Books, 2013)