Even though Disney’s Mulan came out in 1998, I still vividly remember being rooted in front of my television watching Hua Mulan in action. Her courage, bravery, and selflessness was a breath a fresh air from Disney’s other princesses and it was clear from the beginning she was cut from a different cloth.
Let’s be frank, people: if you don’t like Mulan, I’m giving you major virtual side-eye. However, there are some who don’t know that the beloved tale of Mulan comes from a Chinese folklore. So as we anxiously wait for Disney’s live-action remake of the classic (July 24th can’t come fast enough), let’s look at this fierce warrior’s backstory and her ongoing legacy.
I’m going to make a Mulan stan out of you!
Hua Mulan was a Chinese warrior woman who lived during the Northern and Southern dynasties, which was between 420 and 589 CE, and her story was told through the “Ballad of Mulan.” Now it could be possible that Mulan actually existed, but many believe her story to be fictional.
Fictional or not, the hope that Mulan inspired in women worldwide is real. There have been many versions of the Ballad of Mulan, but at its core, the story has been the same. The story is told within thirty-one couplets, starting with Mulan washing clothes when she heard that the army was recruiting new soldiers. To save her old and ailing father, Hua Hu, she decided to be recruited as his “son.” She knew that her father was too old and too ill to survive the war, so she decided to disguise herself as a man to go in his place.
After a ten-year battle, she returned home and gained a lot of praise, but when she returned home, she refused her awards. Instead, she chose to retire home and in some tellings, she fell in love with an officer she met during the war. Sounds familiar?
Here’s a snippet of the ballad translated by Evan Mantyk (to see the whole ballad, click here):
A hundred battles—generals die;
__In ten years, heroes surface
To meet the Emperor on high
__Enthroned in splendid palace.
He holds twelve scrolls that list their deeds,
__Gives thousands of rewards.
The Khan asks Mulan what she needs.
__“No titles fit for lords,”
She says, “To borrow a swift steed
__And ride home I prefer.”
Her parents, hearing of this deed,
__Rush out to welcome her.
So, let’s do this math: centuries-old Chinese folklore, plus two-decades’-hit Disney film, equals a household name? That sounds right to me. But Mulan resonates with generations of women for several reasons: to start off with, it’s her relatability. Mulan wasn’t born in wealth, nor did she give up everything she had for a boy or even marry a boy she knew for just five seconds (no offense, other princesses).
She didn’t get everything right the first time around; she was an outcast, as most of us were growing up and frankly still are (I know I still am!). She fought for something we all would: our family and our country. She stood her own and succeeded amongst her male peers, who utilized brute strength; Mulan used her determination, bravery, quick-thinking and loyalty to be victorious. She was a female character that balanced masculinity and femininity, beautifully, without having to sacrifice the other.
In an era where women are climbing higher than ever and fighting back more than ever, the tale of Mulan is both appreciated and needed. She’s definitely a girl worth fighting for.
Featured Image via D23