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.
The Song of Mulan, composed by Wei Yuanfu, is strikingly similar to the Ballad. Like the Ballad, the Song is also quite short, although it introduces several vital elements which eventually became intrinsic to the legend.
Because the Ballad failed to explain why Mulan found it necessary to take her father’s place, Wei Yuanfu decided to mention that her father was old, in poor health, and his condition had been steadily deteriorating.
When Mulan returns home, she strips herself of her manly garments and resumes her appearance as a petite woman. After she has returned to her proper place in the family, she sings a song that insists that a daughter is just as valuable as a son.
While this poem certainly contains progressive elements, it is important not to allow our modern perspective to influence our reading of this poem. Whereas the Ballad of Mulan climaxes with a conclusion that emphasis gender equality, this poem concludes by emphasizing virtue.
The Song concludes that all the officials of this world should learn from Mulan’s example. Any man who would be as devoted and as virtuous as Mulan would undoubtedly become a famous historical figure who would be revered throughout the ages.
Mulan sighs while holding the weaver’s shuttle.
“Who is on your heart this time?” I ask.
I wish to know the reason behind her sadness.
She takes a deep breath and composes herself.
“My father has been drafted into the army,
But he has no strength.
How can he join this expedition and march 10,000 miles?
His son is still too young to take his father’s place.
His horse will stumble through the deep sand.
The fierce wind will attack his skin.
My father is old and ill.
How will he be able to endure these hardships?”
Mulan will take her father’s place.
She feeds her horse and takes her place among the soldiers.
She removes her silk clothes.
She washes away her makeup.
She rides a horse and reports for duty.
Her heart is filled with courage.
At dawn, she pitches her tent at the foot of a snowy mountain.
At dusk, she rests beside a clear lake.
By nightfall, she attacks Mt. Yanzhi.
She also captures the Qiang.
The general has won the victory.
The soldiers can now return home.
Mulan is greeted by her parents.
But joy turns into sadness.
Mulan understands the expressions on her parents’ faces.
She lays aside her manly garments and prepares to sing.
“I was a valiant hero,
But now I am a petite woman once again.
Relatives bring me their congratulations.
A daughter is just as valuable as a son!”
Her old comrades wait outside
They shared many hardships together for ten years.
They have sworn to be brothers for life,
As they have even faced death together.
Today, they see Mulan again.
Although they recognize her voice, her appearance is completely different!