Hua Mulan

  (Redirected from The Ballad of Mulan)

Mulan (traditional Chinese: 木蘭; simplified Chinese: 木兰) is a fictional folk heroine from the Northern and Southern dynasties era (4th to 6th century AD) of Chinese history. According to the legend, Mulan takes her aged father's place in the conscription for the army by disguising herself as a man. After prolonged and distinguished military service against nomadic hordes beyond the northern frontier, Mulan is honored by the emperor but declines a position of high office. She retires to her hometown, where she is reunited with her family and reveals her gender, much to the astonishment of her comrades.

Mulan (木蘭; 木兰)
畫麗珠萃秀 Gathering Gems of Beauty (梁木蘭) 2.jpg
Mulan as depicted in the album Gathering Gems of Beauty (畫麗珠萃秀)
First appearanceBallad of Mulan
Based onMusical Records of Old and New
In-universe information
OccupationInfantry Soldier
OriginNorthern Wei
NationalityXianbei or Chinese (not conclusive)
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

The first written record of Mulan is the Ballad of Mulan[note 1], a folk song believed to have been composed during the Northern Wei (386–535) and compiled in an anthology of books and songs in the Southern Chen (557–589). The historic setting of Ballad of Mulan is usually the Northern Wei's military campaigns against the nomadic Rouran. A later adaptation has Mulan active around the founding of the Tang c. 620.[1] The story of Hua Mulan was taken up in a number of later works, including the 16th-century historical fiction Romance of Sui and Tang [zh][note 2], and many screen and stage adaptations. The Hua Mulan crater on Venus is named after her.[2][3]


Painting of Hua Mulan, 18th century, housed in the British Museum

The Ballad of Mulan was first transcribed in the Musical Records of Old and New[note 3], a compilation of books and songs by the monk Zhijiang in the Southern Chen dynasty 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[note 4], whose 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.

An adaptation by playwright Xu Wei (d. 1593) dramatized the tale as "The Female Mulan" [note 5] or, more fully, "The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father's Place" [note 6], in two acts.[4][5] Later, the character of Mulan was incorporated into the Romance of Sui and Tang, a novel written by Chu Renhuo (褚人獲).[6][7]

Over time, the story of Hua Mulan rose in popularity as a folk tale among the Chinese people.


The heroine of the poem is given different family names in different versions of her story. The Musical Records of Old and New states Mulan's given name is not known and therefore implies Mulan is her surname.[8] As the Ballad of Mulan is set in the Northern Wei dynasty when northern China was ruled by ethnic Xianbei, ancestors of the Mongols, there is some belief that Mulan was not ethnic Han Chinese but Xianbei, who had exclusively compound surnames.[8] Mulan may have been the sinified version of the Xianbei word, "umran" which means prosperous.[8]

According to later books such as Female Mulan, her family name is Zhu (), while the Sui Tang Romance says it is Wei (). The family name Hua (; Huā; 'flower'), which was introduced by Xu Wei,[4] has become the most popular in recent years in part because of its more poetic meaning.

In Chinese, her given name (木蘭) literally means "magnolia".


Mulan's name is included in Yan Xiyuan's One Hundred Beauties, which is a compilation of various women in Chinese folklore. There is still a debate whether Mulan is a historical person or just a legend, as her name does not appear in Exemplary Women which is a compilation of biographies of women during the Northern Wei dynasty.[9]

Though The Ballad of Mulan itself does not expressly indicate the historical setting, the story is commonly attributed to the Northern Wei era due to geographic and cultural references in the ballad.[8] The Northern Wei was a dynasty founded by the Tuoba clan of ethnic Xianbei who united northern China in the 4th century. The Tuoba Xianbei rulers were themselves nomads from the northern steppes and became partially sinified as they ruled and settled in northern China.[8] The Tuoba Xianbei took on the Chinese dynasty name "Wei", changed their own surname from "Tuoba" to "Yuan", and moved the capital from Pingcheng, modern day Datong, Shanxi Province in the northern periphery of Imperial China, to Luoyang, south of the Yellow River, in the Central Plain, the traditional heartland of China.[8] The emperors of the Northern Wei were known both by the sacred Chinese title, "Son of Heaven", and by "Khagan", the title of the leader of nomadic kingdoms. The Ballad of Mulan refers to the sovereign by both titles. The Northern Wei also adopted the governing institutions of Imperial China, and the office of shangshulang the Khagan offered Mulan is a ministerial position within Shangshusheng, the highest organ of executive power under the emperor.[10] This offering indicates Mulan was trained in the martial arts and literary arts as she was capable of serving as a civilian official charged with issuing and interpreting written government orders.

The Xianbei in China also retained certain nomadic traditions, and Xianbei women were typically skilled horseback riders.[8] Another popular Northern Wei folk poem called "Li Bo's Younger Sister" praises Yong Rong, Li Bo's younger sister, for her riding and archery skills.[8] The Ballad of Mulan may have reflected the gender roles and status of women in nomadic societies.[11]

The Northern Wei were engaged in protracted military conflict with the nomadic Rouran, who frequently raided the northern Chinese frontier to loot and pillage.[8] Northern Wei emperors considered the Rouran to be uncivilized "barbarians" and called them Ruanruan or wriggling worms.[12] According to the Book of Wei, the dynasty's official history, Northern Wei Emperor Taiwu launched a military expedition in 429 against the Rouran by advancing on the Black Mountain and then extending northward to the Yanran Mountain.[8] Both locations are cited in The Ballad. The Black Mountain corresponds to Shahu Mountain (杀虎山), located southeast of modern-day Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. Yan Mountain, the shorthand for Yanran Mountain (燕然山), is now known as Khangai Mountains of central Mongolia.[12] The Northern Wei sought to protect the frontier by establishing a string of frontier garrison commands across what is today Inner Mongolia.

Ballad of MulanEdit

Mural of Hua Mulan enlisting in the Dalongdong Baoan Temple of Taipei, Taiwan.

Mulan sighs at her loom.[13][14] The Khagan is mobilizing the military, and her father is named in each of the conscription notices from the emperor. Her father is old and her younger brother is just a child, so she decides to take her father's place. She buys a fine horse from the eastern market, saddle and stirrup from the western market, bridle and reins from the southern market and a long whip from the northern market.

She bids farewell to her parents in the morning, and encamps by the Yellow River in the evening, where she cannot hear the calls of her parents; only the rushing waters. In the morning, she leaves the Yellow River for the Black Mountain where in the evening, she cannot hear the calls of her parents; only the sounds of the barbarians' cavalry in the Yan Mountains. She advances ten thousand li to battle as if flying past the mountains. The sound of the sentry gong cuts through cold night air, and the moonlight reflects off her metal armor. A hundred battles take place, and generals die.

After the ten-year campaign, the stout veterans return to meet the Son of Heaven, enthroned in the splendid palace, who confers promotions in rank and prizes of hundreds of thousands. He asks Mulan what she would like. Mulan turns down the high-ranking position of shangshulang in the central government, and asks only for a speedy steed to take her home.

Her parents, upon hearing her return, welcome her outside their hometown. Her elder sister puts on her fine dress. Her younger brother sharpens the knife for the swine and sheep. Mulan returns to her room, changes from her tabard into her old clothes. She combs her hair by the window and, before the mirror, fastens golden yellow flowers. Her comrades are shocked to see her. For 12 years of their enlistment together, they did not realize that she was a woman.

In response, Mulan offers a metaphor: "The male hare has heavy front paws. The female hare tends to squint. But when they are running side-by-side close to the ground, who can tell me which is male or female?"[15][16]

Modern adaptationsEdit

Statue of Mulan being welcomed home, in the city of Xinxiang, China.

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



Mulan Joins the Army songbook, Hong Kong, early 1960s

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.[21]
  • The Legend of Mu Lan: A Heroine of Ancient China[22] 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.
  • Mulan: Before the Sword, written by Grace Lin (2020) and published by Disney Press, is written as a prequel to the Disney live action movie released in the same year.

Children's booksEdit

Video gamesEdit

  • Kingdom Hearts II - Mulan is an optional party member in the Land of Dragons
  • Smite – Mulan is a playable character

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ballad of Mulan: traditional Chinese: 木蘭辭; simplified Chinese: 木兰辞; pinyin: Mùlán cí; Wade–Giles: Mu-lan tz'u
  2. ^ Romance of Sui and Tang: 隋唐演義; 隋唐演义; Suí Táng Yǎnyì; Sui T'ang Yen-i
  3. ^ Musical Records of Old and New: 古今樂錄; 古今乐录; Gǔjīn Yuèlù; Ku-chin Yüeh-lu
  4. ^ Music Bureau Collection: 樂府詩集; 乐府诗集; Yuèfǔshījí; Yüeh-fu-shih-chi
  5. ^ "The Female Mulan": 雌木蘭; 雌木兰; Cí Mùlán; Tz'u Mu-lan
  6. ^ "The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father's Place": 雌木蘭替父從軍; 雌木兰替父从军; Cí Mùlán Tì Fù Cóngjūn; Tz'u Mu-lan T'i Fu Ts'ung-chün

Reference notesEdit

  1. ^ Kwa & Idema 2010, p. 12n
  2. ^ Russell, Joel F., Schaber, Gerald G. (March 1993). "Named Venusian craters". In Lunar and Planetary Inst., Twenty-Fourth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference: 1219. Bibcode:1993LPI....24.1219R.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ "Venus Crater Database". Lunar and Planetary Institute of the Universities Space Research Association. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
  4. ^ a b Kwa & Idema 2010, p. xvii
  5. ^ Huang, Martin W. (2006), Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China, University of Hawaii Press, pp. 67–68, ISBN 0824828968
  6. ^ Kwa & Idema 2010, pp. xx–xxi, 119–20
  7. ^ Huang 2006, pp. 120, 124–25
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j (Chinese) 暮雨, "燕山胡骑鸣啾啾《木兰辞》背后的鲜卑汉化与柔然战争" Accessed 2020-09-06
  9. ^ Mann, Susan. Precious Records: Women in China's Long Eighteenth Century. Stanford University Press. (1997). p. 208. ISBN 978-0804727440
  10. ^ (Chinese) 赵贵全, "北魏兴亡与尔朱荣——北魏官制简介(尚书省)"2019-01-19
  11. ^ Suyin Hayes, "The Controversial Origins of the Story Behind Mulan", Time Sept. 4, 2020 accessed 2020-09-06
  12. ^ a b (Chinese) 顾农 "两首《木兰诗》的异同" 《文汇报》 2019-01-18
  13. ^ "Mulan (Original Story)" translation by Yuan Haiwang 2005 accessed 2020-09-05
  14. ^ ‘The Ballad of Mulan’: A Rhyming Translation by Evan Mantyk, 2008 accessed 2020-09-05
  15. ^ "The Legendary Warrior that Inspired Disney's Mulan Is Pretty Badass". Archived from the original on 2016-12-11. Retrieved 2016-12-15.
  16. ^ Columbia University (2002). "China for Educators: Primary Sources: China: Ballad of Mulan". China For Educators. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  17. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2017-04-20.
  18. ^ "Mulan. (2020, March 27). Retrieved September 11, 2020, from". External link in |title= (help)
  19. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (2016-10-17). "'Game Of Thrones' Alex Graves To Helm Sony's 'Mulan'". Deadline. Retrieved 2020-09-12.
  20. ^ Hibberd, James (July 5, 2012). "'Once Upon a Time' scoop: 'Hangover 2' actress cast as legendary warrior". Entertainment Weekly.
  21. ^ Hong Kingston, Maxine (1989). The Woman Warrior. New York: Random House. pp. 40–53. ISBN 0679721886.
  22. ^ Hu, Eileen. "Mulan". Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  23. ^ "33. I Am Mulan". Chinese books for young readers. 2017-03-13. Retrieved 2018-10-01.


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.
  • Ballad of Mulan from Columbia University

External linksEdit