This is one of the most famous figures of ancient China - the embodiment of fighting, fortitude, breaking stereotypes. The story of Mulan, an extremely charismatic heroine we know from Disney's production, is connected with an ancient legend. Who was Hua Mulan really?
In ancient songs and myths, heroes who could oppose the will of the gods, make a confession to fate, fight demons and ghosts were celebrated. In the treasury of world culture (especially oriental), however, we can also find stories with other patterns of characters and leitmotifs.
The oldest known legend of Mulan was written in the form of a ballad, a folk song that dates back to the reign of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–535). There are various variants of it - the details changed in word of mouth, but the core of the plot remains unchanged:Hua Mulan, the daughter of a titled soldier, decided to disguise herself as a man and take up military service, relieving her an ailing father for whom fighting would involve death.
Magnolia flower - inner strength and mystery
The original text did not survive to our times, but Guo Maoqian, an 11th-century writer, made sure that the story of Mulan was preserved for posterity. The legend was recorded in the so-called Anthology of Songs from the Music Office - in two versions, marked by subtle differences. But the most important thing has always been the division between the world of men and women, the natural boundary of which is written in the heart of Mulan.
Disguised as a warrior, Hua was subjected to trials - toughening both body and soul - requiring her to mobilize her inner strength and use her full potential. Demonstrating physical strength, she remained gentle, vulnerable. Just like a natural flower.
"Mulan Joins the Army" by Ming artist Tang Yina
Because "Huā" simply means "flower" and "Mùlán" means magnolia. The name of the main character of the legend is not without significance, because in China magnolia flowers are a symbol of purity and nobility. And the legendary figure of a girl who joined the army in male disguise can therefore be considered the embodiment of moral virtues and mental strength.
The age-old story draws attention to several aspects of the story, including the painful separation from her family - Mulan, despite the fact that her service lasted almost twelve years, she felt longing every day, almost heard the calls of her mother and father, who constantly remembered their beloved daughter . For understanding history, three stages were important - preparation for the journey, life in the army and return to the former reality. In each of them, what mattered was the girl's personal dedication, inner determination and the mystery that was borne by the woman named the magnolia flower.
Warrior woman on a pedestal
Love, respect and obedience… to parents, relatives and deceased ancestors alike. This is the essence of the so-called filial piety, one of the most important virtues in Confucianism and other Far Eastern ethical systems, to which the legend of Mulan directly refers.
Interesting - and in the context of understanding the story - is that, in her twelve years of warfare, Mulan's true identity, who had reached a high officer position at that time, had not been discovered. None of her comrades in arms ever recognized her gender, believing that a petty warrior, with delicate features, high and melodious voice - as we can at least imagine - is just a faithful friend. Comrade in arms.
Only after the end of the service, when the soldiers wanted to visit their commander at home, instead of a man, they met a woman sitting at a loom. They did not immediately realize that they had a friend from the time of their military service in front of them. Who was Mulan really? In one version, the legend ends with a question about the possibility of distinguishing the sexes of hares running next to each other, which symbolizes the duality of Hua Mulan's nature - a warrior who, like a chameleon, was able to adapt to extremely difficult conditions.
Iron statue of Mulan and her father in Xinxiang, China.
In another variant, special emphasis was placed on the words of the father who, after his daughter's return, realized that she could be as useful as the son. Filial piety (and therefore absolute obedience to her parents and older siblings and paying them due respect) was the essence of the piece, but equally important were the actions of Mulan, who proved her worth by becoming a belligerent woman raised on a pedestal.
Stories written by Maogian, and then modified in later centuries, meant that the legendary tale gradually gained in importance. The action was most often set during the Huns' invasion of China, although the Hotan Tibetans were also the aggressors. The scenery for the theater of war was Qinghai Lake, and sometimes the Yellow River. No wonder the oriental tale of honor has become the basis of a spectacular film, and previously cult animation.
A legend saved in the Disney movies
Perhaps one of the most interesting animations from Disney is connected with the character of Mulan. The award-winning film is an interesting reading of the legend, which highlights the element associated with the ghosts of the family ancestors, the girl's guardian - the Great Stone Dragon.
In the latest super-production, it was also decided to emphasize the fantastic elements a bit differently, thanks to a female character named Xianniang, a shapeshifting witch, excluded from the community, who at some point could pass as a mentor, or even a kindred soul of the main character. It is an example of a cinema that combines spectacular action, dramatic elements and references to Chinese stories.
The true story of Mulan, the girl whose name means magnolia blossom, remains inspiring for centuries. Dedication to the family, discovering inner strength, crossing cultural boundaries - these are the themes that make up the image of an extraordinary warrior known from Far East legends and cinema, which is, after all, a new medium for ancient tales and myths.