Know Your Idols #27 Mulan

Ok we’ve all seen the Disney film and it’s great, but Hau Mulan was a figure from Chinese history that became something of a legend and had a poem about her that is believed to have been transcribed in the 6th Century. Long before the suffragettes we had Mulan.

What’s her deal?
Well Disney was actually on the nose with this, when Hau Mulan’s elderly father was called up to serve the army she took his place. From there the stories differ, but either is good. The historical figure served for 12 years, working her way up the ranks, gained great honour and retired quietly to her home town. It’s thought she lived during the Nothern Wei Dynasty (386-534).

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Disney has a rather more fanciful version with Eddie Murphy as a tiny dragon Mushu. Still it’s a good fun romp and covers the same basic principle, girl replaces elderly father Fa Mulan, girl kicks ass at being a warrior and wins respect and honour for her family.

Disney movie Mulan

She Says:
My ancestors sent a little lizard to help me?
Just because I look like a man doesn’t mean I have to smell like one
Uhh… I mean, uh, sorry you had to see that, but you know how it is when you get those, uh, manly urges, and you just gotta kill somethin’… fix things, uh, cook outdoors…

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Putting aside the Disney fun briefly, Mulan was a true idol, a girl in a patriarchal world who stood up and took arms for love of her father and her families honour.

Here is what I could find online of the poem ‘Ode to Mulan’

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,
Mu-lan weaves, facing the door.
You don’t hear the shuttle’s sound,
You only hear Daughter’s sighs.
They ask Daughter who’s in her heart,
They ask Daughter who’s on her mind.
“No one is on Daughter’s heart,
No one is on Daughter’s mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters,
The Khan is calling many troops,
The army list is in twelve scrolls,
On every scroll there’s Father’s name.
Father has no grown-up son,
Mu-lan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse,
And serve in the army in Father’s place.”

In the East Market she buys a spirited horse,
In the West Market she buys a saddle,
In the South Market she buys a bridle,
In the North Market she buys a long whip.
At dawn she takes leave of Father and Mother,
In the evening camps on the Yellow River’s bank.
She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,
She only hears the Yellow River’s flowing water cry tsien tsien.

At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River,
In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain.
She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,
She only hears Mount Yen’s nomad horses cry tsiu tsiu.
She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war,
She crosses passes and mountains like flying.
Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots,
Chilly light shines on iron armor.
Generals die in a hundred battles,
Stout soldiers return after ten years.

On her return she sees the Son of Heaven,
The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall.
He gives out promotions in twelve ranks
And prizes of a hundred thousand and more.
The Khan asks her what she desires.
“Mu-lan has no use for a minister’s post.
I wish to ride a swift mount
To take me back to my home.”

When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming
They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other.
When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming
She fixes her rouge, facing the door.
When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming
He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep.
“I open the door to my east chamber,
I sit on my couch in the west room,
I take off my wartime gown
And put on my old-time clothes.”
Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair,
Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder
She goes out the door and sees her comrades.
Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed.
Traveling together for twelve years
They didn’t know Mu-lan was a girl.
“The he-hare’s feet go hop and skip,
The she-hare’s eyes are muddled and fuddled.
Two hares running side by side close to the ground,
How can they tell if I am he or she?”

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