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Hua Mulan

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Hua Mulan

Hua Mulan
Mulan as depicted in the album Gathering Gems of Beauty (畫麗珠萃秀)
Traditional Chinese 花木蘭
Simplified Chinese 花木兰

Hua Mulan or Fa Mulan (Chinese: t 花木蘭 s 花木兰) is a legendary figure from ancient China who was originally described in a poem known as the Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭). This poem is thought to be based on Fu Hao. In the poem, Hua Mulan takes her aged father's place in the army. She fought for twelve years and gained high merit, but she refused any reward and retired to her hometown instead.

The historical setting of Hua Mulan is uncertain. Xu Wei's play version from the 16th century places her in the Northern Wei dynasty (386–536), whereas the later romance Sui Tang Yanyi has her active around the founding of the Tang, ca. 620.[1][1] The novel is consistent insofar as it describes Mulan's father as stemming from the people of the Northern Wei.

The Hua Mulan crater on Venus is named after her.[2][3]


The Ballad of Mulan was first transcribed in the Musical Records of Old and New (s 古今乐录, t 古今樂錄) in the 6th century, the century before the founding of the Tang Dynasty. The original work no longer exists, and the original text of this poem comes from another work known as the Music Bureau Collection (s 乐府诗, t 樂府詩), an anthology of lyrics, songs, and poems, compiled by Guo Maoqian during the 11th or 12th century. The author explicitly mentions the Musical Records of Old and New as his source for the poem.

The poem is a ballad, meaning that the lines do not necessarily have equal numbers of syllables. The poem consists of 31 couplets, and is mostly composed of five-character phrases, with a few extending to seven or nine.

There was no treatment of the legend since the two 12th century poems, until in the late Ming Dynasty playwright Xu Wei (d. 1593) dramatized the tale as The Female Mulan (Ci Mulan 雌木蘭[2]), in two acts.[4][5]

Later, the character of Mulan was incorporated into the historical romance Sui Tang Yanyi (zh), written by Chu Renhuo (zh) in the 17th century early in the Qing Dynasty.[6][7]

Over time, the story of Hua Mulan rose in popularity as a folk tale among the Chinese people on the same level as the Butterfly Lovers. It is one of the first poems in Chinese history to support the notion of gender equality.


In Chinese, mùlán (s 木兰, t 木蘭, lit. "wood-orchid") refers to the magnolia. The heroine of the poem is given different family names in different versions of her story. According to History of the Ming, her family name is Zhu (朱), while the History of the Qing say it is Wei (魏). The family name 花 (Huā, lit. "flower"), which was introduced by Xu Wei,[4] has become the most popular in recent years in part because of its more poetic meaning.


The poem starts with Mulan worried, as one male from each family is called to serve in the army. Her father is old and weak and her younger brother is too young, so she decides to take his place and bids farewell to her parents. 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.

Sui Tang Yanyi

Chu Renho's romance Sui Tang Yanyi (c. 1675) provides additional backdrops and plot-twists.[6] Here, Mulan lives under the rule of the Turkic khan (identified as Heshana Khan of the Western 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 (花弧) fears he will be conscripted into military service, since he only has two daughters and an infant son. Mulan cross-dresses as a man, and enlists in her father's stead. She is intercepted by the forces of the petty king Dou Jiande, and is brought under questioning by the king's militant daughter Xianniang (s 线娘, t 線娘), who tries to recruit Mulan (thinking her a man), but upon discovering Mulan to be of kindred spirit (a female warrior like herself), is so overwhelmingly delighted that they become sworn sisters.[7][8]

In the Sui Tang Yanyi, 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.[7] Princess 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 the Emperor,[3] and the imperial consort who was birth-mother to the prince bestows money to Mulan to provide for her parents, and wedding funds for the princess who confessed to having promised herself to general Luo Cheng (zh) (s 罗成, t 羅成).[9]

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 (s 乐寿, t 樂壽, the modern-day city of Cangzhou, Xian County, Hebei Province). But Mulan is devastated to discover her father has long died and her mother has remarried.[4] 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 (s 又兰, t 又蘭), which was to deliver a letter from the princess Xianniang's letter to her fiancé Luo Cheng. This younger sister dresses as a man to make her delivery, but her disguise is discovered, and it arouses her recipient's amorous attention.[10]

In the novel, Mulan's father was of the ethnically Mongolic Xianbei tribe (described as "a Hebei person of the people of the Northern Wei dynasty, ruled by the Tuoba clan"), while her mother was Han Chinese from the Central Plain.[11] But "even a half-Chinese woman would prefer death by her own hand to serving a foreign ruler," as some commentators have explained as this Mulan character's motive for committing suicide.[12]

Modern adaptations

The story of Hua Mulan has inspired a number of screen and stage adaptations in the modern era, which include:

  • Hua Mulan Joins the Army (1927 film) – a Chinese silent film released by the 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 war, directed by Bu Wancang.
  • 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.
  • Mulan (1998 film) – Disney animated feature based on the legend of Mulan, and the basis of many derivative works. Disney's version of the Mulan character has subsequently appeared in other media and promotions.
    • Mulan II (2004 film) – Sequel to Disney's 1998 film.
  • Mulan: Rise of a Warrior (2009 film) – Live action film about the Chinese legend.
  • In Rooster Teeth Productions RWBY (2013), Lie Ren (voiced by Monty Oum) of Team JNPR is a reserved and dutiful warrior of unspecified Asian origin who is written to be a male version of Hua Mulan.
TV series
  • Maxine Hong Kingston re-visited Mulan's tale in her 1975 text, The Woman Warrior. Kingston's version popularized the story in the West and led to an adaptation by Disney, but contained many arbitrary changes that have been widely criticized by other Asian-American scholars, such as Frank Chin.[15]
  • The Legend of Mu Lan: A Heroine of Ancient China[16] was the first English language picture book featuring the character Mulan published in the United States in 1992 by Victory Press.
  • In the fantasy/alternate history novel Throne of Jade (2006), China's aerial corps is described as being composed of all female captains and their dragons due to the precedent set by the legendary woman warrior.
  • Cameron Dokey created 'Wild Orchid' in 2009, a retelling of the Ballad of Mulan as part of the Once Upon A Time series of novels published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
  • In the comic, Deadpool Killustrated (2013), Hua Mulan, along with Natty Bumppo, and Beowulf are brought together by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (using H.G. Wells' time machine) to stop Deadpool from killing all beloved literary characters and destroying the literary universe.


  • Dong, Lan. Mulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States (Temple University Press; 2010) 263 pages; Traces literary and other images of Mulan from premodern China to contemporary China and the United States.

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ In 621 Tang's founder (Li Yuan) was victorious over Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande. The latter was the father of Princess Xianniang, who became Mulan's sworn sister in the novel.
  2. ^ or more fully, Ci Mulan tifu congjun, t 雌木蘭替父從軍 "The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father's Place"
  3. ^ In true history, Dou Jiande was executed, but in the novel he lives on as a monk.
  4. ^ According to the novel, Mulan's mother was surnamed Yuan (袁), and remarried a man named Wei (魏).


  1. ^ Kwa & Idema 2010, p. 12n
  2. ^ Russell, Joel F., Schaber, Gerald G. (March 1993). "Named Venusian craters". In Lunar and Planetary Inst., Twenty-Fourth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.  
  3. ^ "Venus Crater Database". Lunar and Planetary Institute of the  
  4. ^ a b Kwa & Idema 2010, p. xvii
  5. ^ Huang, Martin W. (2006), Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China, University of Hawaii Press, pp. 67–8,  
  6. ^ a b Kwa & Idema 2010, pp. xx-xxi, 119–120
  7. ^ a b c Huang 2006, pp. 120,124–5
  8. ^ Ren-Huo Chu. Suei Tang Yan Yi at Project Gutenberg, Ch. 56 (第五十六回)
  9. ^ Ren-Huo Chu. Suei Tang Yan Yi at Project Gutenberg, Ch. 59 (第五十九回)
  10. ^ Ren-Huo Chu. Suei Tang Yan Yi at Project Gutenberg, Ch. 60 (第六十回)
  11. ^ Ch. 56, "其父名弧,字乘之,拓拔魏河北人,为千夫长。续娶一妻袁氏,中原人。"
  12. ^ Huang 2006, p. 120
  13. ^ Hibberd, James (5 July 2012). Once Upon a Time' scoop: 'Hangover 2' actress cast as legendary warrior"'".  
  14. ^ Nichols, James (15 October 2013). "'Once Upon A Time,' Disney-ABC Show'October 2013".  
  15. ^ Hong Kingston, Maxine (1989). The Woman Warrior. New York: Random House. pp. 40–53.  
  16. ^


  • Kwa, Shiamin; Idema, Wilt L. (2010), Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend with Related Texts, Hackett Publishing,  

External links

  • Ode to Mulan The original poem in Chinese and English side-by-side translation.
  • The poem in Chinese calligraphy (images), simplified characters, traditional characters, and an English translation
  • The poem in printed Chinese, with hyperlinks to definitions and etymologies
  • The female individual and the empire: A historicist approach to Mulan and Kingston's woman warrior
  • Information on the historical Mu Lan
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