Many people have seen the Disney movie Mulan and do not realize that it is actually telling the story of an ancient Chinese poem titled the Ballad of Mulan. Because it is a legend, it is unknown when Mulan may have lived although she was believed to have lived during the Northern Wei dynasty which lasted from 386CE to 534CE.
In the movie, Mulan is depicted as being unskilled with weapons. The “real” Mulan, on the other hand, was said to have practiced with many different weapons. The area in which she was believed to have lived was known for practicing martial arts such as Kung Fu and for being skilled with the sword. In the legend, the real Mulan (whose name was actually Hua Mulan) rode horses and shooting arrows.
In the movie as well as in the poem, there was no male child. This caused problems when the Emperor (or Khan as he is called in the poem) began to call up troops to fight the invading Mongol and nomadic tribes. If there had been a son he could have gone in his father’s place as it was only up to the family to provide one man to fight. Whether it was the father or the son did not matter; all they needed to do was provide one person to join the army.
As in the Disney movie, Mulan chose to enlist in her father’s place as he was too old to fight. At the age of eighteen she joined the army and prepared to fight against the Mongolian and nomadic tribes that wanted to invade China. Unfortunately for her there was no intelligent horse and no small red dragon as there was in the Disney version of the legend.
According to the legend she fought for twelve years. During that time she was offered twelve ranks as a way to reward her for her skill in battle. Then, according to both the Disney film and the legend, Mulan chose to return home to live a quiet life with her family. She turned down a title that would have been bestowed upon her for her skill in battle.
Although the first versions of the legend date from the 6th century CE a later version of the book expanded on the original poem. It is no surprise that the poem was expanded on as it is quite short. The book was written and released during the late Ming Dynasty which lasted from 1368CE to 1644CE. This expanded version became quite popular and the story became a folk legend as well. One of the main reasons for this popularity was that it mentioned gender equity, something which few pieces of literature included at the time.
Disney is not the only company to have made a movie about Mulan. The character has also appeared in a number of other movies or has had characters named after her. Some of the movies were successful and others failed to attract interest at the box office.