Following the success of the new Cinderella film, Disney recently announced their plans to do a live-action remake of the iconic animated movie Mulan. We’re certainly curious about it, but all the buzz made us take a second look at the origins of the female warrior.
1. MULAN WAS PROBABLY NOT A REAL PERSON.
The beloved Disney story came from an ancient Chinese ballad from the Song Dynasty, called “Ode to Mulan." This poem was originally part of a musical collection of lyrics and songs that no longer exists, which makes tracing the origin difficult. The inspiration for this poem could have come from a real person, however this was never confirmed.
2. ONE EARLIER VERSION OF THE MYTH HAD MULAN COMMIT SUICIDE IN ORDER TO AVOID BEING A CONCUBINE.
Since the legend is over 1500 years old, there are many variations. One darker story is called 隋唐演义(Legends from Sui and Tang.) In this story, Mulan is rewarded for bravery in battle despite being found out as a female. She returns home to bring the riches to her family, only to discover her father died long ago. After receiving an order from the Emperor to become his concubine, she commits suicide.
3. FA ZHOU DID HAVE A SON. MULAN HAD A YOUNGER BROTHER. (A REAL ONE, NOT THE DOG.)
A line in the original poem clearly states: “小弟闻姊来，磨刀霍霍向猪羊.”
Translation: “When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming [home], he whets the knife, quick quick, to [kill] the pig and sheep.”
So why wasn’t Mulan’s brother forced to join the army instead? An earlier line in the poem vaguely suggests that he was too young to enlist.
4. NO ONE FOUND OUT MULAN WAS GIRL UNTIL AFTER THE WAR.
The original poem goes “同行十二年，不知木兰是女郎.”
Translation: “Twelve years together [at war], no one knew Mulan was a girl.”
How she supposedly kept her identity a secret all those years will remain a mystery.
5. THE FAKE NAME MULAN USES IN THE DISNEY FILM, “FA PING,” IS ACTUALLY A VERY CLEVER CHINESE PUN.
Fa Ping would translate into “花平” (huā píng) which has the same pronunciation as “花瓶 (huā píng)” or “flowerpot.” Since Mulan’s original name, “花木兰,” means “flower wood-orchid”, it suggests that she is poking fun at herself. Furthermore, “花瓶” is used as slang in Chinese to describe “female eye-candy” such as spokesmodels.
6. CHI FU’S NAME LITERALLY MEANS: “TO BULLY.”
In Mandarin Chinese, it would be “欺负(qī fù.)”
7. MULAN’S HORSE IS NAMED “KHAN,” WHICH IS THE TITLE THE EMPEROR OR LEADER IS REFERRED TO IN THE ORIGINAL POEM.
A line in the poem goes like this this, "昨夜见军帖，可汗大点兵."
Translation: “Last night I saw the draft posters, The Khan is calling many troops."
The title "Khan" was given to rulers in ancient Turkey and Mongolia. With this information, it is suggested that Mulan is actually of Turkic or even Mongol descent, which is ironic given that the Mongolian Huns are the villains that she thwarts in the Disney film.We’re curious to see whether Disney will use more context from the poem or myth in their remake of Mulan. Let us know what you think!
You can check out the full poem below and the translation! Keep in mind the original poem was written in classical Chinese, making it structurally and grammatically different (similar to Shakespeare’s style of English.)
ODE TO MULAN
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, Mulan 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 arrive s 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.