Ancient Archive // Mulan – The Dark Story Behind the Disney Classic

Ancient Archive Explination

The Ballad of Mulan is the story of a strong woman willing to sacrifice herself but entering an army for 12 years in order to keep her family safe.
If you don’t think that’s hardcore af than you can GTFO.

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Cloud Separation

I love Disney movies.

Yes, yes, I know. They’re hella problematic and not very diverse but they’re one of my problematic faves okay?

They’re also one of my favourite ways of forgetting when life is really shitty.

How can you feel awful when you’re watching brightly coloured cartoons, musical numbers and hilarious animal sidekicks???

mulan disney.pngMy all time favourite Disney princess film is by far Mulan.

I’ve got a shocking memory so I don’t remember a whole lot from when I was a kid, throughout my teen years I always thought that Beauty and the Beast was my favourite Disney princess film.

I’m a huge bookworm so that makes sense right? This isn’t a surprise because so much of my life growing up was made from assumptions of who I was. I assumed I was straight, I assumed I liked hugging people, I assumed I was an extrovert HAHAHAHAH WRONG!

Then Tangled came out and I really loved it.

Later on, there was the Frozen craze and I have lost count how many times I’ve watched it. No seriously, I was living out of home when it came out, with 5 other girls who all had many friends, so every time someone came home, or someone visited who hadn’t seen it, we all watched it again. I haven’t watched it since.

A couple of years ago I was consumed by a very sudden need to watch Mulan. I’m pretty sure it was because my sister tagged me in a gif of Mushu saying that ICONIC line:

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Whilst we were watching Mulan I suddenly remembered just how much I love this film.

I was struck with the memory of being a little kid, waking up far too early and quietly putting on the Mulan VHS tape while my family was asleep.

I remember loving this strong and heroic kickass woman.

I realized that my favourite was always Mulan, I just kind of forgot for a little while I mean, talk about story of my life.

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The last year or so I’ve been trying to collect all the Disney movies on DVD, starting with my favourites, obviously, and I am so excited for the live action remake next year even though they’ve cut out bisexual icon Li Shang and replaced him with some dickhead, I’m obviously not bitter.

I am trying to remain positive though since I loved Maleficent, hopefully, I’ll love this one just as much, if not more.

I’ve gotten my mum to watch it as well for the first time a couple of months ago because I kept talking about how I managed to forget what my favourite Disney movie was for like 10-15 years and she wanted to see why I loved it so much.

While we were watching it my mum had been reading the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab which is my favourite book series of all time and I was forcing her to read it.

Halfway through mum said she could see why I loved it so much, it was another woman dressing like a man and kicking ass. She was taking charge of her own destiny, gender politics be damned! 

We also had a dog called Mushu when I was a teenager who was named by her previous owners so I think I feel extra connected to Mulan that way as well. Our dog passed away a few years ago and so mum got a little emotional seeing another Mushu in the film.

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When I was coming up with the idea of doing the Ancient Archive series I knew that I needed to cover the folklore behind the Disney film. I’ve finally decided to give it ago!

Mulan is a historical figure who may or may not actually be real and could possibly be just a legend but I don’t give a shit, I’m doing it anyway!

There isn’t a whole lot of information that I’ve been able to find, but I’ll do my best!

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Lightning Separation

“Huā” means flower in Chinese and Mùlán means magnolia which has been a symbol for China since, like, the dawn of time. However, Mulan’s family name has been debated with ancient texts using different names. Some say Wei, some think it’s Zhu. Of course the most popular is Hua since it’s meaning is poetic and people love poetic shit.
Now when it comes to when Mulan lived, no one can know for sure except that her story was connected to the history of China during the Northern and Southern dynasties. Maybe, I’m not really sure because everyone lists different periods and it’s all very confusing. 

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Icon Separation

The Ballad of Mulan is one that describes the life of a woman who takes her elderly father’s place in the war in order to protect him for twelve years.

Go on, try and tell me that isn’t badass??

It’s first known transcription was in the 6th century in the Musical Records of Old and New, but it came from a folk song older than that. Dating back from the North Wei Dynasty (386-557 AD), the Musical Records of Old and New no longer exists, however, the text we do have comes from the Music Bureau Collection. I like to imagine in times like this where people would be throwing their papers into the fire and then looking up to read words as the paper is eaten by the flame and thinking ‘Oh fuck! Burned the wrong one, shit, shit, shit‘ because that’s far more fun.

It does credit Musical Records of Old and New as its source, so let’s everyone has to hope for the best that it wasn’t changed. Compiled by Guo Maoqian, the Musical Burau Collection was created during the 11th or 12th century and is a collection of lyrics, songs and poems.

mulan OG 1.jpg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?

 

mulan OG 2.jpgTsiek 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 sat 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.”
mulan a woman.gifWhen 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?”
Mulan, in the ballad, takes her elderly father’s place in the army to keep him safe as her only brother was too young to enlist. He must have really been a good father because I sure as well wouldn’t have done that shit for mine. Might have done it for my step father maybe, if he asked nicely. I am a great daughter. Mulan who?

She disguised herself as a man for twelve years, her comrades not learning until later that she is in fact a woman. Which goes to show that gender is a social construct.

She left for battle with her ancestors’ sword and gained high merit from her work in the war. However, when the rewards for their efforts were being dispensed, Mulan refused all and asked only for a horse to return to her home and family. Mulan, babe, I get that you’re all about honor but come on, I’m sure your family could have used some money! And I’d for sure accept a title. I’d be running around like, Yeah bitch, I got a vagina and I’m a general!’

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Icon Separation

There have been many interpretations of Mulan’s story, long before the Disney adaptations. The first was a production written by the playwright Xu Wei during the late Ming dynasty. It was a dramatized production called The Female Mulan, or in full, The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father’s Place which is presented in two acts.
I nearly published this as The Heroin Mulan and that would just be a very different story. Edit reads are important guys! Don’t do what I do and just thinkoh, I’ve been editing as I write this should be fine. It’s not fine. It’s never fine. Learn from my mistakes, please.
Later in the 17th century, Chu Renhuo wrote a historical novel named the Sui-Tang Romance. This portrayal is what popularized Mulan’s story to the status it has today.
The novel shares a much more tragic story though. This honestly sounds right up my alley…I wonder if there’s an English translation…

Icon Separation

Trigger Warnings for Self Harm, Suicide, Sex Work Shame

I’ll let you know when the story ends so you can skip all of it instead of reading until the trigger and then wanting to know how it ends and reading it regardless of your own mental health. The warning will be in the above font.

I’ve also put the triggering content under a toggle menu for those who still want to read the story but skip the triggering part. This way no one will see it by accident.
I’m not the best at remembering trigger warnings and I kind of learned to push past my own before people became aware that they were just a good and kind thing to do, but I try. If there’s anything you can suggest that might help me in supporting those with triggers please let me know!
If you think this is all unneeded and you wanna comment how stupid you think it all is just remember one thing. Fuck off. 
In this story when Mulan is on her way to join the army, she is found by Xianniang, the Xia king Dou Jiande’s daughter, and is questioned. She tries to recruit Mulan as a man, only to find that she is a woman. Instead of cast her aside as a man might have, Xianniang is delighted and they become sworn sisters. In my head they’re hella gay for each other because why not? Sworn Sisters? Try Finger Friends…I’d like to say that I am sorry for that, but I am not. If the live action film wanted to go in this route I would be less upset about losing Li Shang.
Regardless of their sexual orientation, happiness does not last long for either of the women in this story. I mean that’s how you know it’s gay. The gays always get a depressing af ending.
Dou Jiande is vanquished after being caught out in siding with the enemy, the Tang dynasty, and in his place, Mulan and Xianniang surrender themselves to be executed in Xianniang’s father’s place. I don’t really understand how they can both, tell Jiande to fuck off while also demanding someone be killed in his place???
This sacrifice wins over the Emperor and instead of death, the finger friends sworn sisters are rewarded with funds. Mulan is given money to provide for her parents and Xianniang is given money for her future marriage to general Luó Chéng.

Mulan discovers that her father had long passed away during her leave and her mother has remarried.

Triggers

To make matters worse, she is summoned to serve the Khan, a foreign ruler, as his concubine. Not able to live with that kind of life, Mulan kills herself. Her last words were “I’m a girl, I have been through war and have done enough. I now want to be with my father.”

It’s over!

Icon Separation

The story of Mulan is thought to have been created in order to inspire soldiers to fight during a time where wars took more than three centuries, impacting many regions of the Chinese Empire. Mulan’s story was the hope the Chinese people needed during an extremely hard time in its history.
mulan sword fight.gif
Mulan has remained in art and literature and is used as inspiration any time the Chinese people need hope, much like her story was a source of hope so long ago. Mulan can be found in more than 10 films and plays, she’s a popular figure in modern novels and researched texts. She has many monuments created for her all around the world. She is a symbol of honor and bravery, hope and inspiration.
Regardless of whether she was a real person or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what her story means to the people of China. How far it reaches across the world, inspiring hope, honor and bravery in people all across the world is just an added bonus.
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Icon Separation

Cloud & Lightning Separation

I hope ya’ll enjoyed today’s Ancient Archived! Let me know if there’s anyone you’d like me to cover next time!

I will be posting Ancient Archive once a month now instead of every fortnight. You can expect to see them towards the end of the month.
I want to free up some of my schedule to post other things but mostly I was burning myself out trying to research each subject and still be able to make it fun.

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