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Ella Culton

Mrs. Percival

20th Century Literature

22 November 2017

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Bias: The Impact of Identity on Writing

As Virginia Woolf writes, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life,

every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” When observing writing, authors, in

some form or another, use their personal experiences as a basis for their work. Gene Luen Yang

is Roman-Catholic, and has even said that he “decided to make Jesus the center of his life”

(Chen). Yang’s Boxers and Saintsitself is a pair of books meant to describe two perspectives of

the Boxer Rebellion, one from a traditional Chinese boy, Bao, and the other a converted Chinese

Christian girl, Vibiana. By having two opposing sides to the events, a more complete tale of the

story is meant to be evident. However, in Boxers, which is meant to be completely a traditional

Chinese perspective, Catholic ideologies can clearly be identified. As a result, Gene Luen Yang

unintentionally includes his religious bias in Boxers & Saintsas Roman-Catholic ideologies can

be seen in the actions and events of the characters and storyline.

From the very beginning, Vibiana is seen as a more morally just character than Bao, even

in the Chinese viewpoint of Boxers. While Vibiana shows remorse for her killing of her

grandfather, as seen in the panels of page 43 of Saints,Bao is unfeeling, only concerned when

revenge becomes a possibility. To explain, Bao, after discovering that the Chinese in the train

compartment are Christian, says, “These secondary devils disgust me. Spare the women and

children but kill all the men” (Boxers189). In the next panel, Bao’s warriors enter the

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compartment to screams of terror, while Bao walks away, unconcerned. However, as the novel

continues, Bao’s guiding figure, Emperor Huang, warns that Bao “should have killed them!”

(Yang 192). This warning haunts Bao for the rest of the novel, as he is worried about what the

young girl he did not kill will do to him, which can clearly be seen in panels 3 and 4 of page 194,

where he is downcast, and thinking of the tear-stricken girl he left behind. In yet another case of

Vibiana’s apparent righteous behavior, Vibiana dies for her religion, refusing to submit to Bao

and the traditional Chinese ideologies he believes in. On pages 160 and 161 of Saints, Vibiana

refuses to give her Chinese name, repeating “My name is Vibiana”, paying with her life for her

refusal. On the other hand, Bao throughout Boxers & Saintsis continually revived, and in his last

possible death experience revokes his faith by pretending to be Christian. In fact, Bao begs for

mercy on pages 168 and 169 of Saints, praying

“Our Father…” on his knees in front of the

foreign soldiers. Essentially, in Bao’s revokement of the traditional Chinese values he has killed

and lost for, his belief is compromised, and his most positive trait is disproved. Yang, in shaping

the story with Bao’s lack of commitment and certainty compared to Vibiana’s strong belief

system suggests an uneven spectrum, favoring the Christian and Catholic resolve.

Nevertheless, some may believe that Yang includes Chinese philosophies such as

Legalism and Confucianism in equal amounts to Christianity, providing an impartial view of the

topic at hand. For example, Bao respects the god of his village, Tu Di Gong as he has a deeply

rooted knowledge of Confucianism, which is centered around the idea that “All people must

respect and obey those above them” (Bower). Bao, going as far as to speak with Tu Di Gong

before every performance, saying, “I hope you’ve been well since we last met, sir”, and bowing

towards him, shows his dedication, and understanding that Tu Di Gong is above him in his

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society (Yang 4). However, the idea of respecting those above you “crosses cultures”, unable to

just be defined as just a Chinese philosophy. In Christianity, the fourth commandment is to

honour thy father and thy mother, following the general concept of the importance of those

above you (Sacred Heart Parish). When looking deeper into Confucianism and Christianity,

additional ties can be seen, perhaps weakening the idea that Boxersentirely follows one line of

religious thought. At its core, religion is inspired by global ideas, where it is slightly manipulated

and formed to fit into the niche of particular religions. While Yang hoped to achieve “Each

[novel to] represent a complete, cohesive worldview” in the sense of Christianity in one novel,

and Chinese philosophy in the other, he achieves a cohesive worldview in the concepts provided,

like respecting those above you and God above all else, which represent various religions world

wide (Mayer).

Christian and Catholic elements are not only seen in the characters of the novels, but also

in the core concepts of the storyline, as the seven sacraments and ten commandments can be

observed. In the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, 5 edicts are valued, which guide

the actions of the brother-disciples. Of these edicts, the first and second edicts are “Honor your

father and mother” and “Do not lust after women or wealth” (Boxers 150), closely tying to the

fourth and tenth commandments, “Honour thy father and thy mother” and “Thou shalt not covet

thy neighbour's house [

]

nor any thing that is his” (Key to Heaven). While likely not

intentional, the ten commandments are pillar elements of Christianity, the religion fought against

by the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist. Bao specifically follows the sacrament

Holy Orders in obeying Emperor Huang or the black robed god above all others. For example,

Emperor Huang tells Bao to burn down the Hanlin Academy Library, demanding for Bao to

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“Call [his] archers over! Do it now!” while Mei-Wen, his love, begs him not to (Boxers303). In

the end, Bao obeys Emperor Huang burning the library and Mei-wen, who is inside, to ash

(BoxersPanels 4-6 314). Bao’s dedication, even when faced with the lost of the love of his life,

is always focused toward Emperor Huang, who is Bao’s most important god. In the Christian and

Catholic religion, God is most important, and his orders must be obeyed, as in the Bible,acts are

done “in remembrance of [Him]” (Sacred Heart Parish). Throughout Boxers, Emperor Huang’s

orders for Bao are highly motivating, driving the story forward. Moreover, at the beginning of

the novel, Bao is supported by his edicts, keeping to them for a strict sense of order and

righteousness. With the inclusion of both sacraments and commandments in key elements of the

story, Catholic religion has crept it’s way into the novel through base story elements.

Importantly, these elements are not always obvious, further proving the unintentional bias

towards Christianity. Simply, Gene Luen Yang follows the elements of Christianity in his own

life, therefore becoming apparent in his works, as specific Christian stories can also directly tie

to Bao’s story in particular.

In the novel Saints, Vibiana, the main character, looks to the spirit of Joan of Arc for aid

and direction. Nonetheless, Bao’s personal journey throughout Boxersis more closely tied to

Joan’s story than may originally be apparent. From the very beginning, Bao and Joan are

motivated to “save” their respective religions by otherworldly forces. Specifically, Bao’s village

as a child is invaded by a foreign devil, where Tu Di Gong is destroyed, as seen in Panel 1 of

Page 19 of Boxers. Similarly, Joan says, “When I was very young, they invaded our village! I’ve

seen what they’re like… I’ve seen what they can do”, describing the soldiers that detrimentally

affected her village as a child (Saints56). This distinct impression left on Joan can also been

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seen in Bao, as after the foreign priest has left, “things just aren’t the same” from Bao’s

perspective (Boxers30). As the stories continue, Joan of Arc goes “off to see Mr. Robert de

Baudricourt [

]

a powerful man” who will get her where she needs to be while Bao, heads off

“up the mountain to visit Master Big Belly” (Saints 75) (Boxers 83). These two figures aid in the

character’s development into strong figures, as seen in Bao’s “taking over” of Master Big Belly’s

mystic vision, turning him into the black robed god he is associated with for much of the rest of

the novel. On the other hand, Joan’s impact is not clearly seen in Saints, but can be inferred by

her transformation from a young hopeful girl, as seen on page 75, to the more confident soldier

seen in the other “sections” of her life throughout the novel. This confidence and security

provides Joan with an army to fight, aiming to “head to the city of Orleans, which the English

have besieged for months!”, a direct parallel to Bao’s army, fighting to “go to Peking and

eradicate the foreign devils!” (Saints91) (Boxers 170). Both figures have a strong army behind

them, with a goal to destroy the opposing force above all else. Above all else, both Joan and Bao

can be directly tied to fire, as Bao is forced to determine “[his] power from one of the Five

Elements” and Joan is conquered through the use of fire, depicted by her burning at the stake by

the English (Boxers 237). This moment of Joan’s burning is the final turning point in Joan’s life,

while Bao’s decision to turn to fire is his biggest rupture moment, forever changing his character

and actions in Boxers.

Above all else in bias, the writer himself must be analyzed and studied as Yang has

strong personal ties to Roman Catholicism, going as far as to make Jesus the center of his life.

When observing this train of thought, Yang appears to be dead-set in his motivation to this

religion, as all aspects of his life are surrounded by this concept, including his writing. In a point

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of note, Yang, in an interview with NPR, even said “his Catholic upbringing inspired his interest

in the Boxer Rebellion” (Mayer). As Yang’s original interest in the Boxer Rebellion began from

a point of religion, the beginning bones of the story still reflect these interests, as seen in the

above evidence. To add on, Yang, believes “he always struggles with balancing faith and work”,

as while he is a storyteller, he is also a man of faith (Chen).

As all of the elements described weave themselves together in Yang’s pair of books, an

underlying sense of Catholic religion can be seen, whether that be in comparative stories,

character development, or lesser known elements of Catholicism. Unfortunately for Yang, the

combination of such works do just as well to prove that while his research was impeccable, Yang

was unable to escape from the writing trait of “write what you know” (Twain). For any

individual, bias is challenging to avoid, as in every moment, there is an opportunity to draw on

what you know to inform how you give your perspective and impact to the world.

Works Cited

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Bower, Bert. “Three Chinese Philosophies.” History Alive! The Ancient World, Teachers'

Curriculum Institute, 2004, pp. 208–213.

Chen, Alice C. “The Humble Comic.” SFGate, SFGate, 11 May 2008,

Epstein, Ron. “Filial Respect: Honoring Father and Mother.” San Francisco State University,

Sept. 2000, online.sfsu.edu/repstein/Filial/filial.html#Confucianism.

Mayer, Petra. “'Boxers & Saints' & Compassion: Questions For Gene Luen Yang.” NPR, NPR,

22 Oct. 2013,

ang.

Sacred Heart Parish. “Brief Statement of Christian Doctrine.” Elements of Basic Catholic Belief,

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Signet Classics, 2002.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. Orlando, Wordsworth Editions, 1995, p. 103.

Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers. Vol. 1, First Second, 2013.

Yang, Gene Luen. Saints. Vol. 2, First Second, 2013.