The Origin of Mulan in The Ancient Chinese Folklore

No one can ever confirm whether Mulan is a real human being or just a fictional character. However, the first original manuscript from the 12th Century by Guo Maoqian about her story still exists.

For the Chinese people, in their home country, mainland China, as well as for their descendants who are scattered all over the world, Hua Mulan is highly praised and used as a benchmark and idol for someone in maintaining family dignity. Especially for women, who are usually always in the view of second class citizens, in all social settings. Among all Disney Princesses, Mulan could lead the #MeToo movement.

Against the Emperor’s rules, she disguised as a man to sneak into a military camp to represent his aging father. Hua Mulan fights in the vanguard of the Chinese army on the battlefield to drive out Northern invaders.

Do you still remember Princess Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings, who also disguised and managed to kill King Angmar? Long before her, Hua Mulan was already written in 6th-century poetry in the Tang Dynasty, by a poet named Guo Maoqian. Quite similar to Studio Ghibli‘s The Legend of Princess Kaguya to the Japanese, Mulan is one of the oldest folklore in ancient China.

Is She Real or Fictional?

As one of the oldest stories in the Asian Continent regarding female heroism, there is no evidence there once lived a woman named Hua Mulan in the 4th to 6th century. The original story changed over time as new writers added more and more elements. That’s including a talking dragon in the animated film version of Mulan released by Disney in 1998. The original poem does not say whether the father was old or lame. It also not mentioned the household having no son who could represent to go to war. However, her story still inspired many to this day. Not just by the Chinese, but, to all.

Mulan Refers to Mongolia than Northern Wei

The Ballad of Mulan never mentioned the emperor by his Chinese designation, Huangdi. Instead of being called the word “Huangdi”, the emperor was referred to as “Khan”. In essence, Khan is referring to the Mongol leader. Where Mulan’s location is in the Northern Wei Dynasty, historians assume that Mulan may indeed be part of the story in the Mongolian region. However, from the 7th to 10th centuries, Mulan’s story shifted as if Mulan came from the Han tribe, not the Wei tribe, which was closer to Mongolia. Even though, all the Asian Nations, especially East Asia, used to also come from China, if we can trace back to ancient migration.

Mulan Sacrificed Herself for the Sake of Family Honor

Until modern times, most of the nations of the world, adhere to a patrilineal system. Not only for the Chinese, but also the British, and many other nations. Most of us adhere to the patrilineal system, a belief that supports the condition that only boys can continue the existence of a family. The family name will continue until the son dies, and if the son has a son, the grandson will carry the surname. However, this does not apply to girls. If a family only has daughters, the family name will end in that generation. This is a value that has been held by the Chinese people since time immemorial.

Mulan’s father’s dialogue, which says, “I’m blessed with two daughters”, illustrates that Mulan’s father was against the patrilineal system, which was seen as discrediting women and do not accept women to become fighters on the battlefield. Although in the end, he was the one who volunteered to represent his family in the great battle against the invaders to contribute to the Emperor, his dialogue portrays Mulan’s father’s thinking that girls are as valuable as boys.

Mulan also thought the same. When her family fell asleep, Mulan acted by secretly running away from her home, stealing her father’s armor and sword, disguised as a man. Hua Mulan showed herself that women can also be equal to men. It could even be stronger. Can even be a leader.

Mulan spent 12 Years in the Military

Neither in the Disney animated film nor in the live-action adaptation, we can’t catch the idea of how many years Mulan spent in the military. However, in the original poem, Mulan spent 12 years before trusted to lead the troops. For 12 years, she hid her identity as a woman, without getting caught. This is also one of the reasons why Mulan is most likely a fictional story because to hide her gender identity for 12 years is of course very difficult.

Mulan’s ever-changing story

Mulan’s real ethnicity is also questioned, whether she came from Northern Wei, or Han. Her story changed over time. The traditions, the political background, the issues of gender equality. However, the essence of Mulan’s story from the 6th century remained the same. A woman who is willing to risk her life to defend dignity and bring honor to her family. She wanted to prove that women are as strong as men. Mulan’s values ​​that are still upheld until today, regarding loyalty, courage, honesty, and family.

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