Mulan Legend in Art, Literature and Popular Culture

A famous woman warrior disturbs people’s minds for the centuries and gives precedents for new legends around her. Mulan Zhu, often called Hua Mulan, nowadays lives in the hearts of brave men and women, who love their motherland and take care of their families. Historically, there are two versions of the myth. The first one comes from the Ballad of Mulan, which tells about the invasion of the Mongolic army and a young girl who took her father’s place in the troops. For 12 years of her service, no one discovered that she was a woman. After ten years a brave woman turned into a great general, triumphant. The ballad also tells Mulan refused from the emperor’s gold and honors and returned back to her family. The second version bases on the previous one, but gives another course of events. Sui-Tang Romance, is a historical novel written by Chu Renhuo in the 17th century. In this version, Mulan comes to a tragic end. After the war ends, she comes back home, but her beloved father is no longer alive, the mother is re-married. And standing before the hard choice of becoming a concubine, she decides to commit suicide. We would never know the truth and may guess if the personality was a real one or just author’s fantasy fruit to describe a gender equality, faith in family ideals, independence and strength of will. Thereby, even nowadays, in the technologic era of fast changing ideas, she inspires personalities of art, literature and popular culture to create stories about this legendary woman.

A lot of fabulous plots and images people recognize owing to masterpieces of art. Paintings, sculptures preserve the atmosphere of previous ages. Dances let us dip into other epochs. And even today advertising campaigns sometimes address to the beautiful past tense events. Mulan is not an exception. The city Xinxiang in China welcomes tourists with an iron statue. Mulan meets her father after the years of separation. The aim of the statue is to show happy end after long sufferings and not to lose faith in a bright future. The paintings of the legendary person can give an imagination, how did she look like. There is a plenty of them, so that everyone may imagine his own good-looking and serious face of the woman warrior. But each portrait describes Mulan as a beautiful lady of Chinese nationality with gorgeous long hair (which she hides), magnificent eyes, a charming smile and a lit bit sad face expression. The most wonderful ones are obviously paintings in oil on the silk background. They pass all the tenderness and sensibility of the sight. Calligraphic art provides the other opportunity to feel the oriental moods and to watch significant moments of heroine life in this splendid interpretation. The pictures also occur where the young woman is practicing in the art of calligraphy outputting patterns on her own hands. Was it her true talent or not, remains a secret. The informational and television era introduced its own vision of art. Mulan appears in the advertising campaigns of a plenty of goods attracting thousands of people to buy them. These are mostly things for children which know the character from the analogous Disney movie, but that is going to be discussed in a text below. 

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Talking about literature masterpieces, they are the primary sources of any information about Mulan that reached our days. Of course, many of them have been lost, burnt, or some other disasters happened to them. For example, the original of the first poem about the brave woman no longer exists. The texts that are known by many people today come from the anthology of the 11th-12th century by Guo Maoqian. In the 16th century existed the dramatization about Mulan. The author of it was Xu Wei. Another work was “Sui Tang Yanui” by Chu Renhuo already mentioned above. The personage is remembered and loved by Chinese people through the years. Thereby, the story was retold not once. Some of the works are: “The Wild Orchid: a retelling of the ballad of Mulan” by Cameron Dokey, “The woman warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston, “China’s bravest girl: the legend of Hua Mu Lan” (authors Charlie Chin and Tomie Arai), “Throne of Jade” (author Naomi Novik). The character of “China’s bravest girl: the legend of Hua Mu Lan” is a courageous woman who is ready to meet the danger with the same cold blood as men do. In “The Wild Orchid: a retelling of the ballad of Mulan” the young lady meets a friend and love in the personality of Prince Jian and goes through the dilemma of revealing her true identity. Kingston’s “The woman warrior” popularized Mulan in the western culture, and even a guess exists, it led to the Disney animated adoption. The first English language book published in the United States of America in 1992 became “The legend of Mu Lan: a heroine of ancient China”.

Returning to present days, the industry of advertising, movies and television series has reached its peak. The new information appear, new interpretations come into sight, every material is analyzed, discussed and commented.  Even if something should be revealed it can hardly manage to be kept in secret. And talking about the great pages of history, literature masterpieces, gorgeous paintings – all these works may find their mirrors in popular culture. Without a doubt, the young generation is familiar with heroine due to Disney franchise. Called Fa Mulan, she is a joyful character and takes her deserved place among the other princesses. The animated movie “Mulan” produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation (Walt Disney Animation Studios, nowadays) got very positive critical reviews still feminist women found some inadequacy in the scenes and preserved different vision.  An unusual personage appeared due to the franchise. It was a small dragon Mushu sent to protect Mulan during her travelling. In 2004 the next movie “Mulan 2” appeared. This story tells about the events which happened after the first film story and about Mulan’s marriage. Of course, both Disney stories have changed a lot if comparing to the original ballad, but have got a happy end. Still, it would be unfair to forget that during the 20th century a number of motion pictures about woman warrior were presented to public long before the Disney Studios. Some of them are “Hua Mulan joins the army”, “Mulan joins the army” (two movies with the same name in 1928 and 1939), “Lady General Hua Mu-lan” (1964), “Saga of Mulan” (1994) and others. The film “Mulan” (2009) with Chinese actress Zhao Wei starring, as almost any other story, has two plot lines. The first one tells us about brave people fighting for their motherland and difficulties they met on the way. The second line is about a beautiful lady and her personal feelings, about people she met on her way, and some of them became her friends, the others become enemies. What about the comic art, in the “Deadpool Killustarted” (2013), Hua Mulan, along with Natty Bumpoo, and Beowulf are brought together by Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (using the time machine) to stop Deadpool from killing all beloved literary characters and destroying the literary universe.

We may guess about her beautiful sight and empathize her challenging destiny. The legend may experience a lot more versions, new personages may appear around her. Despite all the movies, stories, and pictures, the key thing in Mulan image is her inner world. She is brave, open-hearted, faithful. These character traits do not change from myth to myth. They are primarily for the woman warrior who will remain in the hearts of people for centuries ahead.

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