torstai 7. tammikuuta 2016

Fairy tale origins: Mulan


This time we'll travel all the way to ancient China. I've always been very curious about the legend of Mulan. Most of the western people probably know her from the Disney animation. After I did all research for this blog post (and for personal enjoyment) I've actually started to appreciate the Disney Mulan way more as well. There is great stories around this mysterious warrior.
 Who was Mulan?

Hua Mulan is one of the most legendary women of ancient China. There isn't archaeological proves of her existence but her legend has survived in literal works and Chinese folk-tales 'till today. Original folk song Ballad of Mulan appeared sometimes between 386 eaa and 533 in northern Wei Dynasty. Since the appearance of the first literal works in the 6th century about legend of Mulan Chinese writers, poets, play writers and artists have been inspired by her character.

According to the legend Mulan was very much a tomboy since early age. She learned domestic tasks from her mother such weaving but also martial arts from his aging soldier father who raised him like a boy.

17- year old Mulan was washing clothes when she heard that army was recruiting new soldiers. Her father was already in old age and ill. She knew he wouldn't survive in the war. Mulan decides to disguise as a man and takes his place. Thanks to her excellent skills army is more than happy to recruit her. Father is not pleased about her decisions but does not stop her either. Her mother is more worried about her fame and is afraid that her daughter doesn't arrive back from the army as a virgin. Mulan ensures that she returns home as virtuous woman.

Mulan does her best to hide her gender in the army. In fear of accidentally revealing her true identity she stands on guard during the night shifts. Her excellent battle skills cause jealousy among some other solders like Zhang Shazi who makes fun of her. Others like office Jin Yong become good friends with her but they don't know her secret.

For 10 years of battle Mulan is promoted as general. Two friends battle side by side and Mulan fells in love with Jin Yong who still not know Mulan is a woman. In a surprise attack against enemy one evening Mulan gets wounded and she is forced to reveal her true identity. After recovering from the first shock Mulan's troops start to respect her even more. Jin Yong also realizes that he loves Mulan.

After another successful triumph emperor of China wanted to reward Mulan. She however was tired of seeing only war around her and only wished for a horse to return home.

Some stories tell that Jin Yong died in the battle field while saving Mulan's life and she committed suicide to be with him for eternity. In some stories she returns to her home just to realize that her father has passed away. She doesn't want to return to the army and becomes a weaving woman. Still she can not forget her life in the army. She sees dreams of battles. We don't know do these dreams haunt her or does she subconsciously misses the thrive of the battle. Other stories tell that Mulan and Jin Yong left the solder life and spent rest of their lives together.



4th and 5th century China was suffering under invasion of Mongolian tribes and other nomadic ethnic groups. Wars lasted nearly 3 centuries in many different parts of the country. In these times of utter hopeless legend of ultimate solder with a secret became extremely popular. Though there isn't direct historical proves of Mulan's true existance (yet). There is possibility that legend of Mulan was born from several different female warriors that lived in China between 5th and 6th centuries and these stories have been evolved to one great legend.

Character of Mulan still lives in Chinese popular culture in literature, comics, plays, movies and many other things. She appears time to time when Chinese people look for uplifting characters in harsh times to remind themselves of ultimate courage.



In my opinion Disney Mulan is quite true to the legend of Mulan. I especially like the end of the Disney film. It is not a typical Disney ending where princess (Mulan) automatically gets her prince in the end (Captain Li Shang in Disney version represents Jin Yong of the original story). Instead in the film we see them becoming good friends in the army but after Mulan's true identity is revealed Shang with very mixed up feelings doesn't have any other choice than throw her away from the army. After the epic fight in the forbidden city and Mulan's return home Shang comes to look for her and end is left open and it is up to watcher's imagination to think what happens between these two.

 In many ways Ballad of Mulan has served with patriotic purposes when Disney's Mulan is more about female power and gender roles. I will make separate review on the Disney animation here to my blog soon.

What makes all these stories of Mulan so incredibly fascinating is the quest of one's true identity. In many versions Ballad of Mulan Mulan herself doubts her heroism and idea of a true hero. Can woman be a hero while waiting her husband from the war and raising new fighters to be sacrificed or are only solders heroes dying for their country? Sometimes she even questions is she a man or a woman. What defines a  man and what defines a woman? What defines a soldier? Is she a man now that she is leading troops to battle? or is she just a country girl wearing a harness?

 Especially in China, country where traditional gender roles have been shifting just in the past century story of Mulan has inspired not just those looking for patriotic inspiration or courage but also anyone who battles with gender roles in today's world, looking for their identity or purpose in their lives.
That is the legacy of Mulan.

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