The Legend of Mulan
No other woman in
Chinese history has inspired more admiration than Mulan, who is
considered an embodiment of loyalty and filial piety. The ancient story of Mulan
enlisting in the military on her aging father’s behalf is one of China’s most
treasured legends and included in every Chinese school textbook. The story has also become quite well known
outside China through a Disney animation film that has popularized this
celebrated Chinese heroine.
Mulan was an actual person. Her last name
was Hua. She was born in a small rural village in northern China, and
purportedly lived from 581 to 618 AD during the Sui Dynasty, though other
records place her between 386 and 534 AD, during the Northern Wei Dynasty. While
the dates may be disputed, her story is unequivocal.
Mulan’s father was a
soldier and raised Mulan like a boy. She not only learned weaving and embroidery from her mother, but also practiced
martial arts, equitation, archery, and fencing with her father. In her spare time she liked to read
her father’s manuals on military strategy.
In those times, the northern
nomadic tribes often harassed the mainland south, pillaging and killing anyone
who got in their way, even women and children. Therefore the emperor sent out a
decree to form an army and draft recruits from all over the land to put down the
hostilities along the northern borders. According to the decree, all male adults
were to register, and that included Mulan’s elderly, ailing father.
Mulan thought of her father going to war, she knew he would likely die, and die
in vain. But if he refused to go, he would be branded as being unpatriotic.
Mulan’s brother was still too young to enlist, so Mulan made up her mind to
disguise herself as a man, and take her father’s place in the army.
first, Mulan’s parents were against her plan, but Mulan persisted. National
interests were at stake, and loyalty to the country was considered a higher
order of filial piety.
When Mulan set off on horseback to the frontier,
her family sent her off at the outskirts of their village. In order to not have
her true identity discovered, Mulan had to be very careful at all times. She
made sure she was never left behind by her troop during the day, and at night
she slept with her clothes on. Mulan trained very hard, forgoing all her
feminine qualities and needs, so that no one would question her gender. For 12
years Mulan served in the army and received numerous honors.
war was ended, the emperor wanted to award her an official position, but she
declined and asked for a good horse instead as she wished to return home to her
family. Her wish was granted, and the emperor
also sent an envoy to escort her home.
Her parents were overjoyed to learn of their daughter’s
return and went beyond their township to welcome her home. But when they saw an
awe-inspiring general riding toward them, they didn’t recognize their own, long
Mulan’s brother prepared a grand feast in her honor,
and after she had cleaned herself up and
changed into her female attire, it was her escorts’ turn to be stunned, for the
unassailable warrior, who had fought side by side with them for 12 years, turned
out to be a woman.