Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chinese Folk Heroine: Hua Mulan

This guest blog by Megan Cunningham sheds like on one of Chinese's most beloved women warriors.

Hua Mulan is a legendary Chinese female figure who risked her life and took her aging father’s place in the army. She disguised herself as a man and fought for 12 years. She is one of China’s greatest women with a sword.

The story of Mulan who legend says lived during the Northern Wei Dynasty (4-6th Century AD) was first found in a poem called The Battle of Mulan which has been passed down through popular culture and in 1998 was turned into a Disney movie, Mulan. The movie is not all factual; there is no such thing as a talking dragon and crickets who can communicate with humans. Even so, the Disney version made Mulan's name and story more widely known around the world and not just in China.

There are many speculations and debates about details of Hua Mulan’s life but both history and legends do at least agree on one thing- her accomplishments. China was being attacked by the Tujie who wanted to take control over China, so the emperor demanded that every family provide a soldier for the army. In China, people were trained to fight during times of peace so when their country was attacked, all they needed to do was recruit trained soldiers.

Mulan’s father had been a well-trained and skilled soldier in his prime. He passed down his abilities to his two children. In ancient Chinese culture, the role of women was largely restricted to their homes. They were taken as a liability until they reached the age of marriage when they were given to another family.

The story of Mulan begins with her father being enlisted in the Chinese army but he was becoming too old and incapable of going into battle. She didn’t want her father to jeopardize his life because she knew it would be hard for him to fight and her brother was too young to enlist. Because of her father’s sufferings she offered to fight in her father’s place because she knew her father was unable but both her parents rejected the idea. Chinese customs at that time forbid women from fighting in the army. Traditionally the family has been the most important unit of society so to disobey her father's orders were surprising; so she decided to fight on her own. She decided to dress as a man and fight for her father which was dangerous since women's roles in China were to be wives and stay in the home. Mulan didn't fit into these societal roles.

Mulan spent a total of twelve years fighting alongside other male soldiers without anyone discovering her true identity. She went on to distinguish herself in battle and was eventually promoted to General. Her bravery later caught the eye of the Chinese emperor who offered her a government position but all she asked for was a way to get back to her family. She later revealed her gender which shocked many. Although she hid her true identity, she was and still is respected her for bravery and extraordinary skills.

The story of Mulan is well known and has provided much inspiration for poetry, essays, operas and paintings. She has become an iconic heroine in Chinese and western cultures alike. Her story, like those of other popular folk heroines, still lives on today.

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