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Hua Mulan (花木蘭) is a legendary/fictional female warrior from the Northern and Southern dynasties period of Chinese history, originally described in the Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭; Mùlán cí). In the ballad, Hua Mulan, disguised as a man, takes her aged father's place in the army. Mulan fought for twelve years and gained high merit, but she refused any reward and retired to her hometown.

The historic setting of Ballad of Mulan is in the Northern Wei. Over a thousand years later, Xu Wei's play from the Ming dynasty places her in the Northern Wei, whereas the Qing dynasty Sui Tang Romance has her active around the founding of the Tang c. 620. In 621, the founder of the Tang dynasty emerged victorious over Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande. The latter sired Dou Xianniang, another female warrior who became Mulan's laotong in the Sui Tang Romance.[1]

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


File:Mulan, 18th century, ink and colors on silk.jpg

The Ballad of Mulan was first transcribed in the Musical Records of Old and New (Template:Zh) in the 6th century. The earliest extant text of the poem comes from an 11th- or 12th-century anthology known as the Music Bureau Collection (Template:Zh). Its author, Guo Maoqian, explicitly mentions the Musical Records of Old and New as his source for the poem. As a ballad, 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.

In the late Ming, playwright Xu Wei (d. 1593) dramatized the tale as "The Female Mulan" (Template:Lang or, more fully, "The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father's Place" (Template:Zh), in two acts.

Later, the character of Mulan was incorporated into the Template:Ill2, a historical novel written by Template:Ill2 in the 17th century, early in the Qing dynasty.[4][5]

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.Template:Citation needed


In Chinese, mùlán refers to the magnolia. The heroine of the poem is given different family names in different versions of her story. According to History of Ming, her family name is Zhu (朱), while the History of Qing says it is Wei (魏). The family name Hua (Template:Zh), which was introduced by Xu Wei,[6] has become the most popular in recent years in part because of its more poetic meaning.


The story of Hua Mulan is treated more as a legend than a historical person, and her name does not appear in Exemplary Women which is a compilation of biographies of women during the Northern Wei dynasty.[7] Her legend is, however, included in Yan Xiyuan's One Hundred Beauties which is a compilation of various women in Chinese folklore.


File:Mulan statue in Xinxiang.jpg

The Ballad of Hua Mulan is set in the Northern Wei era (386–536). The poem starts with Mulan sitting worriedly at her loom, as one male from each family is called to serve in the army to defend the Tuoba realm from Rouran invaders. Her father is old and weak, and her younger brother is just a child, so she decides to take his place and bids farewell to her parents, who support her. She is already skilled in fighting, having been taught martial arts, sword fighting, and archery by the time she enlists in the army. After twelve years of fighting, the army returns and the warriors are rewarded. Mulan turns down an official post, and asks only for a camel 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 the 12 years of their enlistment together, they did not realize that she was a woman.[8]

Sui Tang RomanceEdit

Chu Renhuo's Romance of the Sui and Tang (c. 1675; first edition 1695) provides additional backdrops and plot-twists.[4] Chu placed Mulan under the rule of Heshana Khan (603–619) of the Western Turkic 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 (Template:Zh) fears he will be conscripted into military service since he only has two daughters and an infant son. Mulan dresses as a man and enlists in her father's stead. She is intercepted by the forces of the Xia king Dou Jiande (573–621) and is brought under questioning by the king's warrior daughter Xianniang (Template:Zh), who tries to recruit Mulan as a man. Discovering Mulan to be a fellow female warrior, she is so delighted that they become sworn sisters.[5][9]

In the Sui Tang Romance, Mulan comes to a tragic end, which "differs from the endings of most of the Hua Mulan legends."[5] 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 Emperor Taizong of Tang and the imperial consort who was birth-mother to the Emperor bestows money to Mulan to provide for her parents and wedding funds for the princess who confessed to having promised herself to general Template:Ill2 (Template:Zh).[10] (In reality, Dou Jiande was executed, but in the novel he lives on as a monk.)

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 (Template:Zh, modern Xian County, Hebei). Mulan is devastated to discover her father has long died and her mother has remarried. According to the novel, Mulan's mother was surnamed Yuan (袁) and remarried a man named Wei (魏). Even worse, the Khan has summoned her to the palace to become his concubine.

Rather than suffer this fate, she commits suicide. But before she dies, she entrusts an errand to her younger sister, Youlan (Template:Zh), which was to deliver Xianniang's letter to her fiancé, Luó Chéng. This younger sister dresses as a man to make her delivery, but her disguise is discovered, and it arouses her recipient's amorous attention.[11]

In the novel, Mulan's father was from Hebei during the Northern Wei dynasty while her mother was from the Central Plain of China.[12] But "even a Chinese woman would prefer death by her own hand to serving a foreign ruler," as some commentators have explained this Mulan character's motive for committing suicide.[13] Mulan's words before she committed suicide were, "I'm a girl, I have been through war and have done enough. I now want to be with my father."Template:Cn

Modern adaptationsEdit

The story of Hua Mulan has inspired a number of screen and stage adaptations, including:



File:Mulan Joins the Army songbook.jpg

Television seriesEdit


  • 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 may have led to the Disney animated feature adaptation.[19]
  • The Legend of Mu Lan: A Heroine of Ancient China[20] 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.
  • Reflection by Elizabeth Lim was published in 2018 as an installment in Disney Press' Twisted Tales series. This is an alternate ending to the Disney film in which Mulan must travel to Diyu, the Underworld, in order to save her captain.
  • In The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas (2019), Mulan has trained in the martial arts since childhood in preparation for a hereditary duel. When she goes to war in her father's stead, she is shocked to discover her team's captain is also her opponent in the duel.

Children's booksEdit

Video gamesEdit

  • The story of Hua Mulan is unofficially continued in the video game 'Smite', where the female warrior has ascended to the status of a god and fights amongst other gods in ancient history. She plays as a melee bruiser who wields three weapons: a sword, a spear and a bow. The newly adapted lore features in her kit, where she gains 'skill' towards each of her weapons by using them against enemies, giving them new attributes in line with her 'ascension' to godhood. She displays her newfound power in her ultimate, which is a flurry of attacks using all three of her weapons imbued with divine energy.

See alsoEdit


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  4. 4.0 4.1 Template:Harvnb
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Template:Harvnb
  6. Template:Harvnb
  7. Mann, Susan. Precious Records: Women in China's Long Eighteenth Century. Stanford University Press; 1 edition (May 1, 1997). p. 208. Template:ISBN
  8. Template:Cite news
  9. Template:Gutenberg, Ch. 56 (第五十六回)
  10. Template:Gutenberg, Ch. 59 (第五十九回)
  11. Template:Gutenberg, Ch. 60 (第六十回)
  12. 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。"
  13. Template:Harvnb
  14. Template:Cite web
  15. Template:Cite web
  16. Template:Cite web
  17. Template:Cite news
  18. Template:Cite news
  19. Template:Cite book
  20. Template:Cite web
  21. Template:Cite news




Further readingEdit

  • 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.

External linksEdit

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