After the devistating conclusion to the Opium Wars, the Chinese people became increasingly disastisfied with the Qing Dynasty. An uprising ensued, which eventually resulted in the collapse of China’s final dynasty. During the Revolution of 1911, the legend of Mulan was used to inspire women to join the Women’s Liberation Army and fight to free China from the oppressive Qing state.
In the 1920s, the communist party begain gaining traction. The communists, who insisted on equality among all individuals, welcomed women to join their ranks. Mulan was hailed as an inspiration among women who sought to liberate themselves from China’s patriarchial system and escape family duties such as arranged marriages. Whereas virtually every previous rendition of the legend emphasis that Mulan’s joining the army was an incredible act of filial sacrifice, her story was now being used by women who sought personal freedom, recognition, and adventure.
In 1937, the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (which eventually escalated into World War II) broke out. Initially, China suffered several devastating defeats, including the loss of Nanjing (the capital city), throwing the country into a state of alarm. Women stepped into the workforce to sustain the Chinese economy while the vast majority of the country’s men enlisted to reclaim China. During this time, Zheng Meiqing assembled a team of talented artists to produce a poster which would inspire all Chinese people, both men and women, to work together in order to defeat the Japanese (shown above). No hero epitomized the artists’ sentiments better than Mulan.
In 1939, one of the first successfull films of Mulan’s story, Mulan Joins the Army, came to the theater. The movie, which glorified warfare, was received as a call to arms. With the warrior princess Hua Mulan leading the way, the Chinese were overcome with a renewed desire to liberate themselves from foreign aggression. After the war ended, when it quickly became apparent that the Chinese people would never be able to return to the lives they once knew, another flm (Lady General Hua Mulan) issued a plea for the Chinese to unite as a family in order to persevere through the trials which lay ahead.
肖伟, 论月份牌绘画之《木兰荣归图》 (收藏与投资, 2016.06): 72-79. Note that the painting referenced above was included in a picture calendar. However, because the calendar differed greatly from what most English speakers consider to be calendars, I have called it a poster in order to avoid confusion.