We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Mulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States

Lan Dong

Publication Year: 2011

Mulan, the warrior maiden who performed heroic deeds in battle while dressed as a male soldier, has had many incarnations from her first appearance as a heroine in an ancient Chinese folk ballad. Mulan’s story was retold for centuries, extolling the filial virtue of the young woman who placed her father's honor and well-being above her own. With the publication of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior in the late 1970s, Mulan first became familiar to American audiences who were fascinated with the extraordinary Asian American character. Mulan’s story was recast yet again in the popular 1998 animated Disney film and its sequel.

In Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States, Lan Dong traces the development of this popular icon and asks, "Who is the real Mulan?" and "What does authenticity mean for the critic looking at this story?" Dong charts this character’s literary voyage across historical and geographical borders, discussing the narratives and images of Mulan over a long time span—from premodern China to the contemporary United States to Mulan’s counter-migration back to her homeland.

As Dong shows, Mulan has been reinvented repeatedly in both China and the United States so that her character represents different agendas in each retelling—especially after she reached the western hemisphere. The dutiful and loyal daughter, the fierce, pregnant warrior, and the feisty teenaged heroine—each is Mulan representing an idea about female virtue at a particular time and place.

Published by: Temple University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (24.2 KB)
pp. vii

List of Figures

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.2 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (39.8 KB)
pp. xi

I want to thank all my professors and friends at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, especially my adviser, Dr. Elizabeth Petroff, for opening many doors in the intellectual world for me to explore. I am deeply grateful for Dr. Catherine Portuges, whose unwavering support and guidance have accompanied me to this day. My greatest debt of gratitude...

read more

1. Prologue

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.3 KB)
pp. 1-8

The legend of Mulan—the maiden who performed heroic deeds in battle while dressed as a male soldier—appeared in China some time between the fourth and the sixth centuries and now is well known in North America.1 This study investigates variations of Mulan’s story that feature a cross-dressed character. Certain elements of the story are consistent in its many retellings: a young woman takes the place of her elderly father...

read more

2. Heroic Lineage: Military Women and Lady Knights-Errant in Premodern China

pdf iconDownload PDF (365.5 KB)
pp. 9-50

In the historical Western imagination patriarchy and patrilineal male kinship rigidly structure traditional Chinese society to the degree that women are deprived of fundamental rights and are inferior to men without exception. One missionary has commented that “[t]he condition of the Chinese woman is most pitiable. . . . Suffering, privation, contempt, all kinds of misery and degradation, seize on her in the cradle and accompany...

read more

3. From a Courageous Maiden in Legend to a Virtuous Icon in History

pdf iconDownload PDF (424.9 KB)
pp. 51-92

For folk stories that often first take shape in oral tradition, a tale’s transformation into literary form requires careful analysis “not only of the tale itself, but also of the motives and values of those responsible for its metamorphosis” (Hallett and Karasek 17). The legend of Mulan is such a tale. Between the globalized and animated reconfiguration presented by Disney and its accredited Chinese source, “Ballad of Mulan,” stand numerous...

read more

4. The White Tiger Mythology: A Woman Warrior's Autobiography

pdf iconDownload PDF (193.5 KB)
pp. 93-122

Just as the precise origin of Mulan’s legend in China eludes cultural historians, so does the period when her story and cultural influence began to migrate to other lands. By the twelfth century, for example, her story was known in neighboring Korea. In a study of female characters included in History of the Three Kingdoms, the twelfth-century Korean historiography, Hai-soon Lee observes that the history’s editor Kim...

read more

5. One Heroine, Many Characters: Mulan in American Picture Books

pdf iconDownload PDF (547.6 KB)
pp. 123-158

Robert D. San Souci, author of the children’s picture book Fa Mulan: The Story of A Woman Warrior (1998) and the film story for Disney’s animated feature Mulan (1998), leads the reader to another valuable creative engagement with Mulan’s story in contemporary America.1 Writers and artists of children’s literature have reimagined this character and represented...

read more

6. Of Animation and Mulan's International Fame

pdf iconDownload PDF (177.0 KB)
pp. 159-187

In Asia, film versions of Mulan’s story appeared through much of the twentieth century and long before the animated versions. In China, for example, two films appeared in 1927: the Minxin Film Company’s Mulan congjun (Mulan Joins the Army) and the Tianyi Film Company’s Hua Mulan congjun (Hua Mulan Joins the Army). In 1939, the Huacheng Company in Shanghai released ...

read more

7. Epilogue

pdf iconDownload PDF (75.4 KB)
pp. 188-193

When researching Mulan’s character and lore, I started out with three touchstone images: the premodern Chinese heroine reflected in the “Ballad,” the Chinese American woman warrior depicted in Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and the hybrid displayed in the animated Disney version. By tracing the cross-cultural transformation of Mulan’s legend in this book, I have attempted to restore the connecting tissue among...


pdf iconDownload PDF (64.7 KB)
pp. 195-199


pdf iconDownload PDF (162.7 KB)
pp. 201-221


pdf iconDownload PDF (224.3 KB)
pp. 223-255


pdf iconDownload PDF (85.1 KB)
pp. 257-263

E-ISBN-13: 9781592139729

Publication Year: 2011