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Chinese Language Center

Ode to Mulan

YellowTipDisney's 1998 animated movie Mulan popularized the legend of the girl that took her father's place in the army. The legend stems from a Chinese poem, written during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), a time where northern china was ruled by nomadic invaders. This is reflected in the fact that the poem refers to the ruler as the Khan rather than as the Emperor. As is common with Chinese stories, it was further elaborated on as a novel during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and as a play during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Her surname has been variously given as Zhu, Wei, or Hua in various sources but in fact no independent contemporary records exist to confirm her existence.

In her 1976 bestseller The Woman Warrior, acclaimed writer Maxine Hong Kingston's described Mulan as a source of inspiration for Chinese women.

The poem itself is written in the form of a singing ballad called a "yue fu".

Ji-ji, again ji-ji,
Mulan faces the door, weaving.
You can't hear the sound of the loom's shuttle,
You only hear Daughter's sighs.
They ask Daughter who's in her thought,
They ask Daughter who's on her memory.
"No one is on Daughter's thought,
No one is on Daughter's memory.
Last night I saw the arny notices,
The Khan is calling for a great force.
The army register is in twelve scrolls,
and every scrolls has Father's name.
Father has no adult son,
Mulan has no older brother.
Wish to buy a saddle and horse,
and serve in Father's place."
In the East Market she buys a steed,
In the West Market she buys a saddle and saddle blanket,
In the South Market she buys a bridle,
In the North Market she buys a long whip.
At dawn she bids farewell to Father and Mother,
In the evening she camps on the bank of the Yellow River.
She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling for Daughter,
She only hears the Yellow River's flowing water cry jian-jian.
At dawn she bids farewell to the Yellow River,
In the evening she arrives at the summit of Black Mountain.
She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling for Daughter,
She only hears Mount Yan's nomad horses cry jiu-jiu.
She goes ten thousand miles in the war machine,
She crosses mountain passes as if flying.
Northern gusts carry sound of army rattles,
Cold light shines on iron armor.
Generals die in a hundred battles,
Strong warriors return after ten years.
On her return she sees the Son of Heaven,
The Son of Heaven sits in the ceremonial hall.

Merits are recorded in twelve ranks
And grants a hundred thousand strong.
The Khan asks her what she desires.
"Mulan has no use for a high official's post.
I wish to borrow a ten-thousand mile camel
To take me back home."

Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming
They go outside the city wall, supporting each other.
When Older Sister hears Younger Sister is coming
Facing the door, she puts on rouge, .
When Little Brother hears Older Sister is coming
He sharpens the knife, quick, quick, for pig and sheep.
"I open the door to my east room,
I sit on my bed in the west room,
I take off my wartime gown
And put on my old-time clothes."
Facing the window she fixes the cloudlike hair on her temples,
Facing a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder
She goes out the door and sees her comrades.
Her comrades are all shocked.
Traveling together for twelve years
They didn't know Mulan was a girl.
"The male rabbit's feet kick up and down,
The female rabbit's eyes are bewildered.
Two rabbits running close to the ground,
How can they tell if I am male or female?"