After the collapse of the Ming dynasty, the Chinese people found themselves under barbarian rule. The Manchu did not understand the culture of the people they governed, neither did they care. The Han Chinese found themselves oppressed and forced to adapt to the Manchu way of life. While it was customary for Manchu men to shave their foreheads, the Han Chinese equated haircutting with discarding one’s flesh; Confucious taught that this was a serious offense to one’s ancestors. During the reign of Dorgon, the Manchu not only forced Chinese men to wear the hairstyle known as the queue, but ordered them to demonstrate their loyalty by slaughtering any of their brethren who insisted upon adhering to Confucian teachings.
During this time, the legend of Mulan experienced a surge in poplarity amongst the Chinese people, who longed to see such a hero rise up amongst them. Her story, which was set during the era of Northern Wei (when China was ruled by the barbaric Xianbei), showed how a woman demonstrated incredible virtue during one of the darkest moments in Chinese history. Her example encouraged the Han Chinese to continue living virtuously, even when doing so would have significant consequences.