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7 True Facts About Mulan

Sara Lynn Hua | April 15, 2015 | | 1 Comment
true-facts-about-the-real-mulan.jpg

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.)

木兰诗

唧唧复唧唧,木兰当户织。不闻机杼声,惟闻女叹息。
问女何所思,问女何所忆。女亦无所思,女亦无所忆。昨夜见军帖,可汗大点兵。军书十二卷,卷卷有爷名。阿爷无大儿,木兰无长兄。愿为市鞍马,从此替爷征。
东市买骏马,西市买鞍鞯,南市买辔头,北市买长鞭。旦辞爷娘去,暮宿黄河边。不闻爷娘唤女声,但闻黄河流水鸣溅溅。旦辞黄河去,暮至黑山头。不闻爷娘唤女声,但闻燕山胡骑鸣啾啾。
万里赴戎机,关山度若飞。朔气传金柝,寒光照铁衣。将军百战死,壮士十年归。
归来见天子,天子坐明堂。策勋十二转,赏赐百千强。可汗问所欲,木兰不用尚书郎,愿驰千里足,送儿还故乡。
爷娘闻女来,出郭相扶将;阿姊闻妹来,当户理红妆;小弟闻姊来,磨刀霍霍向猪羊。开我东阁门,坐我西阁床。脱我战时袍,著我旧时裳。当窗理云鬓,对镜帖花黄。出门看火伴,火伴皆惊忙:同行十二年,不知木兰是女郎。
雄兔脚扑朔,雌兔眼迷离;双兔傍地走,安能辨我是雄雌?

ODE TO MULAN

Tsiek 
tsiek 
and 
again 
tsiek 
tsiek, Mulan 
weaves, 
facing 
the 
door. You 
don’t 
hear 
the 
shuttle’s 
sound, You 
only 
hear 
Daughter’s 
sighs.

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.
She
 goes
 ten 
thousand 
miles 
on 
the
 business 
of
 war, She 
crosses 
passes
 and
 mountains
 like 
flying. Northern
 gusts 
carry
 the 
rattle 
of
 army
 pots, Chilly 
light 
shines 
on 
iron 
armor. Generals
 die
 in 
a 
hundred
 battles, Stout 
soldiers 
return 
after
 ten 
years.

On
 her 
return 
she 
sees 
the 
Son 
of 
Heaven, The
 Son
 of
 Heaven
 sits
 in
 the
 Splendid 
Hall. He
 gives 
out
 promotions
 in
 twelve 
ranks And
 prizes
 of
 a 
hundred 
thousand
 and
 more. The 
Khan
 asks
 her
 what
 she 
desires. “Mulan 
has 
no
 use 
for
 a
 minister’s 
post. I 
wish
 to 
ride 
a 
swift 
mount, To take 
me 
back 
to 
my 
home.”
 
When
 Father
 and
 Mother 
hear
 Daughter
 is
 coming They 
go
 outside 
the 
wall
 to 
meet
 her,
 leaning
 on
 each
 other. When
 Elder
 Sister 
hears 
Younger 
Sister 
is 
coming, she 
fixes 
her
 rouge,
 facing 
the
 door. When 
Little 
Brother 
hears 
Elder
 Sister 
is
 coming, He
 whets 
the
 knife,
 quick 
quick,
 for
 pig
 and 
sheep.
 
“I
 open 
the
 door
 to
 my 
east 
chamber, I
 sit 
on 
my 
couch 
in 
the 
west 
room, I
 take 
off 
my 
war time
 gown, and 
put 
on
 my 
old‑time
 clothes.” Facing 
the 
window
 she
 fixes 
her 
cloud like 
hair, Hanging
 up
 a
 mirror 
she 
dabs 
on 
yellow
 flower 
powder. She 
goes 
out 
the 
door
 and
 sees 
her
 comrades. Her 
comrades 
are
 all 
amazed 
and
 perplexed. Traveling 
together 
for 
twelve
 years They
 didn’t 
know
 Mulan
 was 
a 
girl.
 
“The 
he‑hare’s 
feet
 go
 hop
 and
 skip, The 
she‑hare’s 
eyes 
are 
muddled 
and 
fuddled. Two 
hares
 running
 side
 by
 side
 close 
to 
the 
ground, How 
can 
they 
tell 
if 
I 
am
 he 
or 
she?"
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Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua is a contributing writer and editor for TutorMing. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology. When she’s not reading up on Chinese culture, she enjoys crafting and painting.

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