China has a long history with Christianity. With written records going back over 4,000 years, it is one of the great ancient civilizations that is still in existence.
Missionaries love to point out that the written Chinese language consists of word pictures (think hieroglyphics). Some of these word pictures mimic stories in the book of Genesis.1
Some believe that the disciple, Thomas, brought the gospel to India. In turn, some believe that Thomas’s followers brought the gospel to China. In fact, a tombstone was found in China depicting Bible stories and Christian designs. This tombstone was dated AD86.2
In AD 635 Nestorian Christian Alopen met the Chinese emperor Tang Emperor in 635, and there were many converts to Nestorian Christianity for the next 200 years.
Matteo Ricci arrived in Macau in 1582 and brought Catholicism to China. He also brought many technological advances.
Presbyterian Robert Morrison arrived in Macao in 1807 and became the first Protestant missionary to China. It took him 25 years to translate the entire Bible into Chinese.
In 1836, Hong Xiuquan, a young Chinese man heard missionary Edwin Stevens preach through an interpreter. He began to have visions and became convinced that he was the brother of Jesus. Hong came to the conclusion that God was calling him to liberate China from the Qing Dynasty rulers. Fifteen years later, 30 million Chinese had died in the civil war Hong started, known as the Taiping Rebellion.
After missionaries gained more and more rights after the Opium Wars, resentment grew among Nationalistic Chinese. Practicing traditional martial arts, the Boxer Rebellion saw over 250 missionaries killed, including their children. Over 33,000 Chinese Christians were martyred as well.
The Boxer Rebellion is the setting for the amazing pair of graphic novels by Gene Yang, Boxers and Saints.3 Boxersis the story of a young man who sees his family mistreated by the foreigners, especially the foreign Catholic missionaries and their followers. Saintsis the story of a young girl who was rejected by her family but finds a new family in the church. The stories of this young man and this young woman intertwine in their gripping story.
If you have not read Boxers and Saints,stop here. I would not want to rob you of Yang’s storytelling skills.
After reading Boxers and Saintsa second time, I realized why this is one of my favorite writings of graphic fiction. Not only does Yang sympathetically portray both Little Bao and Four-Girl in dramatic detail, you find yourself connecting with the worldview that each character has adopted.
Instead of being a religion of love, grace, and hope, Bao sees Christianity as a tool of the powerful foreign invaders to take advantage of his people. Instead of seeing the gospel, Bao only sees contempt for his people and his culture.
Eventually, Little Bao becomes a righteous killer of the foreign devils, and Four-Girl, now called Vibiana, becomes a Christian. Even though Vibiana only seems to have a dim understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, her knowledge is dwarfed by her devotion as she bravely gives her life rather than to disavow Jesus.
Yet, it is the final pages of the book Saints where the true gospel shines.
The gospel of grace is first played out through the selfless act of opium addict Dr. Won who gives his life to protect Father Bey.
Yet that most remarkable display of the gospel happens when right before Bao follows through on his promise to make Vibiana a martyr, she feels a compulsion to give Bao a gift. Oddly, the only thing that she could think of was to teach Bao how to pray. Afterward, Bao murders Vibiana in cold blood.
In a dramatic turn of events, Bao is captured by foreign soldiers. Right before they shoot him, he begins to mimic the prayer of Vibiana. They mistake him for a Christian and let him go. Vibiana’s “gift” saves his life.
In Boxers and Saints, Yang clearly shows us what the gospel is not. It is not the smashing of statues or the harsh judging of the heathen. The gospel is a selfless act which gives new life to someone who did not deserve it. The gospel is a saint dying so that a boxer might live.
Boxers and Saintsis not an evangelistic work. In fact, I loved that scene where Dr. Won is enthusiastically telling the gospel story to Four-Girl, only to find out that she was so bored that she fell asleep. Yet,Boxers and Saintsgives us a portrait of the selfless nature of the gospel.
A gospel of grace.
A gospel of second chances.
3 Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers & Saints, 1: Boxers. New York: First Second, 2013.