Statue of Mulan being welcomed home, in the city of Xinxiang, China
Hua Mulan (Chinese: 花木蘭) is a legendary woman warrior from the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (420–589) of Chinese history, who was originally described in a ballad known as the Ballad of Mulan (Chinese: 木蘭辭; pinyin: Mùláncí). In the ballad, Hua Mulan takes her aged father’s place in the army. She was a beautiful woman who was very strong, and was known for practicing martial arts such as kung fu and for being skilled with the sword. Mulan fought for twelve years and gained high merit, but she refused any reward and retired to her hometown instead.The historic setting of Hua Mulan is in the Northern Wei. Over a thousand years later, Xu Wei’s play from the Ming dynasty places her in the Northern Wei (386–536), whereas the Qing dynasty Sui Tang Romance has her active around the founding of the Tang c. 620. In 621, the founder of the Tang dynasty was victorious over Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande, the latter was the father of Dou Xianniang, another female warrior who became Mulan’s laotong in the Sui Tang Romance.
The Hua Mulan crater on Venus is named after her.
The poem starts with Mulan sitting worriedly at her loom, as one male from each family is called to serve in the army to defend China from invaders. Her father is old and weak and her younger brother is just a child, so she decides to take his place and bids farewell to her parents, who support her. She is already skilled in fighting, having been taught martial arts, sword fighting, and archery by the time she enlists in the army. After twelve years of fighting, the army returns and the warriors are rewarded. Mulan turns down an official post, and asks only for a swift horse to carry her home. She is greeted with joy by her family. Mulan dons her old clothes and meets her comrades, who are shocked that in their years traveling together, they did not realize that she was a woman. However, this does not change their good friendship.
Sui Tang Romance
Chu Renhuo’s Romance of the Sui and Tang (c. 1675) provides additional backdrops and plot-twists.Here, Mulan lives under the rule of Heshana Khan of the Western Turkic Khaganate. When the Khan agrees to wage war in alliance with the emergent Tang dynasty, which was poised to conquer all of China, Mulan’s father Hua Hu (Chinese: 花弧) fears he will be conscripted into military service since he only has two daughters and an infant son. Mulan crossdresses as a man and enlists in her father’s stead. She is intercepted by the forces of the Xia king Dou Jiande and is brought under questioning by the king’s warrior daughter Xianniang (Chinese: 線娘), who tries to recruit Mulan as a man. Discovering Mulan to be a fellow female warrior, she is so delighted that they become sworn sisters.In the Sui Tang Romance, Mulan comes to a tragic end, a “detail that cannot be found in any previous legends or stories associated Hua Mulan,” and believed to have been interpolated by the author Chu Renho.Xianniang’s father is vanquished after siding with the enemy of the Tang dynasty, and the two sworn sisters, with knives in their mouths, surrender themselves to be executed in the place of the condemned man. The act of filial piety wins reprieve from Emperor Taizong of Tang and the imperial consort who was birth-mother to the Emperor bestows money to Mulan to provide for her parents and wedding funds for the princess who confessed to having promised herself to general Luó Chéng (Chinese: 羅成).(In reality, Dou Jiande was executed, but in the novel he lives on as a monk.)Mulan is given leave to journey back to her homeland, and once arrangements were made for Mulan’s parents to relocate, it is expected that they will all be living in the princess’s old capital of Leshou (Chinese: 樂壽, modern Xian County, Hebei). Mulan is devastated to discover her father has long died and her mother has remarried. According to the novel, Mulan’s mother was surnamed Yuan (袁) and remarried a man named Wei (魏). Even worse, the Khan has summoned her to the palace to become his concubine.Rather than to suffer this fate, she commits suicide. But before she dies, she entrusts an errand to her younger sister, Youlan (Chinese: 又蘭), which was to deliver Xianniang’s letter to her fiancé, Luó Chéng. This younger sister dresses as a man to make her delivery, but her disguise is discovered, and it arouses her recipient’s amorous attention.In the novel, Mulan’s father was from Hebei during the Northern Wei dynasty while her mother was from the Central Plain of China. But “even a Chinese woman would prefer death by her own hand to serving a foreign ruler,” as some commentators have explained this Mulan character’s motive for committing suicide.Mulan’s words before she committed suicide were, “I’m a girl, I have been through war and have done enough. I now want to be with my father.”
- Hua Mulan Joins the Army (1927 film) – a silent film released by Tianyi Film Company and directed by Li Pingqian.
- Mulan Joins the Army (1928 film) – Mingxing Film Company production, directed by Hou Yao. The film was unsuccessful, in part due to the Tianyi film that was released the previous year.
- Mulan Joins the Army (1939 film) – popular Chinese film made during the Second Sino-Japanese War, directed by Bu Wancang and written by Ouyang Yuqian. The film also created a large spark of popularity, in terms of literature.
- Lady General Hua Mu-lan (1964 film) – Hong Kong opera film.
- Saga of Mulan (1994 film) – Film adaptation of the Chinese opera based on the legend.
- The Secret of Mulan – A 1998 animated film by Hong Ying Animation, in which the characters are anthropomorphic animals.
- Mulan (1998 film) – Disney animated feature, and the basis of many derivative works. Disney’s version of the Mulan character has subsequently appeared in other media and promotions, mainly as part of the Disney Princess product line.
- Mulan II (2004 film) – Sequel that is set one month after the events of the Disney’s 1998 film.
- Mulan (2009 film) – Live action film about the Chinese legend.
A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a warrior in order to save her father. A live-action feature film based on Disney’s ‘Mulan’.
Fearful that her ailing father will be drafted into the Chinese military, Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) takes his spot — though, as a girl living under a patriarchal regime, she is technically unqualified to serve. She cleverly impersonates a man and goes off to train with fellow recruits. Accompanied by her dragon, Mushu (Eddie Murphy), she uses her smarts to help ward off a Hun invasion, falling in love with a dashing captain along the way.
The Great Wall, when a falcon named Hayabusa knocks off his helmet. After the Huns, who are led by the ruthless Shan Yu, invade Han China by breaching the Great Wall, the Chinese emperor orders a general mobilization. Conscription notices require one man from each family to join the Chinese army.
When Fa Mulan hears that her elderly father Fa Zhou, the only man in their family and an army veteran, is once more to go to war, she becomes anxious and apprehensive due to his weakening health. Taking her father’s old armor, she disguises herself as a man, so that she can enlist instead of her parent. The anxious family quickly learn of her departure and Grandmother Fa prays to the family ancestors for Mulan’s safety. The ancestors then order their “Great Stone Dragon” to protect Mulan.
A small dragon named Mushu is sent to awaken the Stone Dragon, but accidentally destroys it in the process. Mushu conceals this from the ancestors and resolves to protect Mulan himself.
Reporting to the training camp, Mulan is able to pass as a man, although her military skills are initially inexperienced. Mushu provides clumsy guidance to Mulan on how to behave like a man. Under the command of Captain Li Shang, she and her fellow recruits Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po, gradually become trained warriors. Desiring to see Mulan succeed, Mushu creates a fake order from Shang’s father, General Li, ordering Shang to follow the main Imperial Army into the mountains. The reinforcements set out, but arrive at a burnt-out encampment and discover that General Li and his troops have been massacred by the Huns.
As the reinforcements solemnly leave the mountains, they are ambushed by the Huns, but Mulan cleverly uses a cannon to cause an avalanche, which buries most of the invaders. An enraged Shan Yu slashes her in the chest, and her deception is revealed when the wound is bandaged.
Instead of executing Mulan as the law requires, Shang spares her life, but nonetheless expels her from the army. Mulan is left to follow alone as the recruits depart for the Imperial City to report the news of the Huns’ destruction. However, it is revealed that several Hun warriors, including Shan Yu have survived the avalanche, and Mulan catches sight of them as they make their way to the City, intent on capturing the Emperor.
At the Imperial City, Mulan is unable to convince Shang about Shan Yu’s intentions. The Huns capture the Emperor, then seize the palace. With Mulan’s help, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po pose as concubines, and are able to enter the palace. With the help of Shang, they defeat Shan Yu’s men; as Shang prevents Shan Yu from assassinating the Emperor, Mulan lures the Hun leader onto the roof where she engages him in single combat. Meanwhile, acting on Mulan’s instructions and signal, Mushu fires a huge skyrocket at Shan Yu. The rocket strikes and propels him into a fireworks launching tower, where he dies in the resulting explosion.
Mulan is praised by the Emperor and the assembled inhabitants of the city, who bow to her in an unprecedented honor. While she accepts the crest of the Emperor and the sword of Shan Yu as gifts, she politely declines his offer to be his advisor, and asks to return to her family.
Mulan returns home and presents these gifts to her father, who is more overjoyed to have Mulan back safely. Having become enamored with Mulan, Shang soon arrives under the pretext of returning her helmet, but accepts the family’s invitation to stay for dinner. Mushu is granted a position as a Fa family guardian by the ancestors amid a returning celebration.
- Ming-Na Wen as Mulan (singing voice provided by Lea Salonga)
- Eddie Murphy as Mushu
- B. D. Wong as Captain Li Shang (singing voice provided by Donny Osmond)
- Miguel Ferrer as Shan Yu
- June Foray as Grandmother Fa (singing voice provided by Marni Nixon)
- Harvey Fierstein as Yao
- Gedde Watanabe as Ling (singing voice provided by Matthew Wilder)
- Jerry Tondo as Chien-Po
- James Hong as Chi-Fu
- Soon-Tek Oh as Fa Zhou
- Pat Morita as The Emperor of China
- George Takei as First Ancestor
- Miriam Margolyes as The Matchmaker
- Freda Foh Shen as Fa Li
- James Shigeta as General Li
- Frank Welker as Cri-Kee and Khan (Mulan’s horse)
- Chris Sanders as Little Brother (Mulan’s dog)
- Mary Kay Bergman as various ancestors
Kelly Chen, Coco Lee and Xu Qing voiced Mulan in the Cantonese, Taiwanese Mandarin and Mainland standard versions of the film respectively, while Jackie Chan provided the voice of Li Shang in all three Chinese versions and appeared in the version of promotional music videos of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”.
Disney has found its Mulan.