Saints by Gene Luen Yang is a rather interesting graphic novel as it follows the life of a young girl throughout a tumultuous period of Chinese history. Chinese culture is heavily influenced by folk tradition as well as the teachings of several philosophers, and aspects of such traditions are evident throughout the work. Although Saints is fictional, it was interesting to see how interactions between Chinese people and Christian missionaries led to increasingly violent events. The character development of Four Girl or Viviana, as she came to be known, was particularly fascinating for me as although she attempted to emulate Joan of Arc, she died in vain.
As a Chinese American, I found this graphic novel to be rather pertinent to my personal experience. I come from a predominantly Asian community in Southern California, and many of my Asian friends are indeed Christians. It seems interesting to me that just a bit over a hundred years ago Chinese Christians were seen as traitors in the eyes of many Chinese people, yet today many overseas Chinese embrace “western” religious beliefs.
The introductory section of The Religious Question in Modern China by Goosaert and Palmer provides more factual information regarding the events that Four Girl experienced, including the Taiping Rebellion which her father participated in as well as the Boxer Uprising which Four Girl herself played a role in. It’s interesting to see how historical events are contextualized in a work of fiction, as although these historical events are significantly simplified, Saints provides an easily digestible introduction to the history of religion in China.