Questions about Mulan’s Legend and History, Answered

Where was Hua Mulan born? Under which emperor did she serve? How did she die? Did she have a brother or a sister? How old was she when she joined the army?

The History Behind the Legend of Hua Mulan (400 AD Onward)

Ancient texts from the past 1,500 years reveal the real history behind the legend of Mulan and how it developed into what we have today.

A relic from the Northern Wei dynasty. Image source: Wei (386–534 AD)

The Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭)

The Ballad of Mulan is the oldest known version of Mulan’s story. This one poem ended up inspiring countless retellings for centuries to come.

A pagoda built during the Tang Dynasty. Image source: Dynasty (618–907 AD)

The Legend of Mulan During the Tang Dynasty

As the status of women began to rise during the Tang Dynasty, an influx of female protagonists appeared in literature. Mulan was one of the heroines emphasized during this time.

Song of Mulan by Wei Yuanfu (木蘭歌, c. 750 AD)

As one of the first retellings of Mulan’s story, the Song of Mulan introduces some key elements which became intrinsic to the legend’s development.

Mulan Temple by Du Mu (題木蘭廟, c. 830 AD)

This is a short but vivid poem that describes Mulan’s inner struggle. Will she be true to her inner feminine nature or lose herself and become a hardened warrior?

A tower built durnig the Yuan Dynasty. Image source: Dynasty (1271–1368 AD)

A Memorial to the Filial General (孝烈將軍祠像辨正記, 1332 AD)

A memorial to Mulan, which was discovered next to the remains of a temple on Mulan Mountain, claims to tell Mulan’s true story.

An arch constructed during the Ming Dynasty. Image source: Dynasty (1368–1644 AD)

The Legend of Hua Mulan During the Ming Dynasty

As the Ming Dynasty witnessed a decline in intellectualism and a rise in entertainment, Mulan’s story ceased being a tale of virtue and, instead, focused on humor.

The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father’s Place by Xu Wei (雌木蘭替父從軍, c. 1580)

As one of Xu Wei’s most famous plays, this dramatic retelling of Mulan’s story is often credited with bringing this legend into the public spotlight.

Women Generals by Zhu Guozhen (湧幢小品:女將, c. 1625 AD)

While addressing the topic of female soldiers, an early historian reconstructed what he believed to be Mulan’s true story.

A gate to the Forbidden City, which was used during the Qing Dynasty. Image source: Dynasty (1644–1912)

The Legend of Hua Mulan During the Qing Dynasty

During a time when the Chinese endured significant oppression, the legend of Mulan experienced a surge in popularity, as the people longed for such a hero.

Romance of Sui and Tang by Chu Renhuo (隋唐演義, 1695)

Romance of Sui and Tang is a famous historical fiction novel, and is best known for a subplot in which Mulan makes an unlikely friend when she is captured by a benevolent princess.

The Complete Account of Extraordinary Mulan (木蘭奇女傳, c. 1800)

The Complete Account of Extraordinary Mulan is a Qing dynasty novel that tells the story of how Mulan’s grandfather passed down the wisdom Mulan needed to become skilled in martial arts.

The Fierce and Filial Girl from Northern Wei by Zhang Shaoxian (北魏奇史閨孝烈傳, c. 1850)

This novel unites many of the previous renditions of Mulan’s story into a single volume, emphasizing that Mulan’s brilliance and courage stemmed from her virtue.

Mulan Joins the Army (木蘭從軍, 1903)

Mulan Joins the Army is a Qing dynasty play. When Mulan’s cousin, Mushu, refuses to take his adopted father’s place in battle, Mulan joins the army in Mushu’s stead to fight against the Xiongnu.

National government office of the ROC. Image source: China (1912–Present)

The Legend of Hua Mulan During Post-Imperial China

After the fall of Imperial China, and especially after Mulan’s story traveled to the West, the legend underwent significant alterations as numerous causes from various cultures all began to herald Mulan as their guiding hero.

Mulan Joins the Army (木蘭從軍, 1939)

Mulan Joins the Army became a classic film adaptation of Mulan’s story, and is the first retelling to introduce romance into the legend.

Lady General Hua Mu-Lan (花木蘭, 1964)

The film Lady General Hua Mu-Lan tells a story about unity. By themselves, Mulan, Ping, and Li Guang each make small contributions. Together, they achieve something great.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston (1976)

The Woman Warrior was a novel that included the first rendition of Mulan’s story to achieve widespread attention in the English-speaking world.

Disney’s Mulan (1998)

Disney’s Mulan was a film that became primarily responsible for making the story of Mulan reach legendary status in the West.

Mulan: Rise of a Warrior (花木蘭, 2009)

Rise of a Warrior is a historical fiction film that retells the legend of Hua Mulan from a Modern Chinese perspective.

Disney’s live-action Mulan (2020)

Disney’s live-action Mulan, which is yet to be released, will be an American adaptation of Mulan’s story that draws much inspiration from previous Chinese retellings of the legend.