Hua Mulan

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Hua Mulan
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)
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Hua Mulan (Chinese: 花木蘭) is a legendary woman warrior from the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589) of China who was originally described in a ballad known as the Ballad of Mulan (Chinese: 木蘭辭). In the ballad, Hua Mulan takes her aged father's place in the army. She fought for twelve years and gained high merit, but she refused any reward and retired to her hometown instead.

The historical setting of Hua Mulan is uncertain. Over a thousand years later, Xu Wei's play from the Ming places her in the Northern Wei (386–536), 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 was victorious over Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande, the latter of which was the father of Xianniang, another female warrior who became Mulan's blood sister in the Sui Tang Romance.[1] The novel is consistent with earlier texts as it describes Mulan's father as stemming from the people of the Northern Wei.

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


The Ballad of Mulan was first transcribed in the Musical Records of Old and New (Chinese: 古今樂錄) in the 6th century, the century before the founding of the Tang dynasty. The original work no longer exists and the original text of this poem comes from another work known as the Music Bureau Collection (Chinese: 樂府詩), an anthology of lyrics, songs and poems compiled by Guo Maoqian during the 11th or 12th century. The author 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.

There was no treatment of the legend since the two 12th century poems, until in the late Ming, playwright Xu Wei (d. 1593) dramatized the tale as "The Female Mulan" (雌木蘭 or, more fully, "The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father's Place" (Chinese: 雌木蘭替父從軍), in two acts.[4][5]

Later, the character of Mulan was incorporated into the Sui-Tang Romance (zh), a historical novel written by Chu Renhuo (zh) in the 17th century, early in the Qing dynasty.[6][7]

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.


In Chinese, mùlán (Chinese: 木蘭) refers to the magnolia. The heroine of the poem is given different family names in different versions of her story. According to History of the Ming, her family name is Zhu (朱), while the History of the Qing say it is Wei (魏). The family name 花 (Huā, lit. "flower"), which was introduced by Xu Wei,[4] has become the most popular in recent years in part because of its more poetic meaning.


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

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 China from 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. After twelve years of fighting, the army returns and the warriors are rewarded. Mulan turns down an official post, and asks only for a swift horse 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 their years traveling together, they did not realize that she was a woman.

The Sui Tang Romance[edit]

Chu Renhuo's Sui Tang Romance (c. 1675) provides additional backdrops and plot-twists.[6] Here, Mulan lives under the rule of Heshana Khan 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 (Chinese: 花弧) fears he will be conscripted into military service since he only has two daughters and an infant son. Mulan crossdresses as a man and enlists in her father's stead. She is intercepted by the forces of the Xia king Dou Jiande and is brought under questioning by the king's warrior daughter Xianniang (Chinese: 線娘), 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.[7][8]

In the Sui Tang Romance, Mulan comes to a tragic end, a "detail that cannot be found in any previous legends or stories associated Hua Mulan," and believed to have been interpolated by the author Chu Renho.[7] 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 Luō Chéng (zh) (Chinese: 羅成).[9] (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 (Chinese: 樂壽, modern Cangzhou, 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 to suffer this fate, she commits suicide. But before she dies, she entrusts an errand to her younger sister, Youlan (Chinese: 又蘭), which was to deliver Xianniang's letter to her fiancé, Luō 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.[10]

In the novel, Mulan's father was non-Han, a Xianbei (described as "a Hebei person of the people of the Northern Wei dynasty, ruled by the Tuoba clan"), while her mother was Han Chinese from the Central Plain.[11] But "even a half-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.[12] Mulan's words before she committed suicide were, "I'm a girl, I been through war and did enough. I now want to be with my father."[citation needed]

Modern adaptations[edit]

The story of Hua Mulan has inspired a number of screen and stage adaptations in the modern era, which include:

TV series
  • 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. [15]
  • The Legend of Mu Lan: A Heroine of Ancient China[16] 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.


  • 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.

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]


  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. Bibcode:1993LPI....24.1219R. 
  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. 67–8, ISBN 0824828968 
  6. ^ a b Kwa & Idema 2010, pp. xx-xxi, 119–120
  7. ^ a b c Huang 2006, pp. 120,124–5
  8. ^ Ren-Huo Chu. Suei Tang Yan Yi at Project Gutenberg, Ch. 56 (第五十六回)
  9. ^ Ren-Huo Chu. Suei Tang Yan Yi at Project Gutenberg, Ch. 59 (第五十九回)
  10. ^ Ren-Huo Chu. Suei Tang Yan Yi at Project Gutenberg, Ch. 60 (第六十回)
  11. ^ 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。"
  12. ^ Huang 2006, p. 120
  13. ^ Hibberd, James (5 July 2012). "'Once Upon a Time' scoop: 'Hangover 2' actress cast as legendary warrior". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Nichols, James (15 October 2013). "'Once Upon A Time,' Disney-ABC Show'October 2013". 
  15. ^ Hong Kingston, Maxine (1989). The Woman Warrior. New York: Random House. pp. 40–53. ISBN 0679721886. 
  16. ^


External links[edit]