Mulan: The Original Story That Inspired The Disney Film

Sep 09, 2020
07:58 A.M.
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Any 90s kid, especially the tomboys like me, will fondly remember Mulan. Disney has now released its live-action remake of the classic.


The film is packed with intense action sequences and sweeping cinematography the film itself received largely positive critics. It is the first Disney movie to feature an all-Asian cast including Liu Yifei, Jet Li, and Tzi Ma.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Unfortunately, the release was met with many controversies resulting in multiple campaigns around the film. Many also pointed out historical inaccuracies in terms of costume design and architectural setting of the film.

Regarding the historical inaccuracies, this is a conundrum that is not easily answered. Mulan is based on a legend that has been adapted over thousands of years. Thus, the story details are blurred.



What Is The Original Legend?

Both the 1998 animated film and the new live-action movie were inspired by the original story of Mulan. The earliest printed version of the story dates back to the 12th century.

Known as the "Ballad of Mulan," the short poem reportedly originates from a folk tale. The tale itself is reportedly from the fourth or fifth century based on references to the period in the piece.

“Anything not contained in this original poem has been made up by much later authors, and cannot be historically substantiated,”

says Sanping Chen, an independent scholar and author of "Multicultural China in the Early Middle Ages."


The Original Storyline

This original version has a simplified storyline of the tale set in the Northern Wei Dynasty, between 386 to 534 AD. It does not feature a talking dragon like the animated film.

“Based on Chinese historical documents, a real war happened between the Northern Wei state and a Mongolic state called Rouran. In 429, the emperor (khan) of Northern Wei led an army to fight Rouran, which according to the Ballad of Mulan lasted 12 years.”

tour company China Highlights says.


Like the film, in the tale, Mulan’s father is called to battle, and Mulan volunteers to take his place. However, the original poem did not describe her father as old or ailing and his condition was only changed in a later version.

In the "Ballad of Mulan," she excelled in her position because she was already taught martial arts and to fight with a sword. Her identity is kept hidden for 12 years. It is only when she eventually returns home to her family that her fellow soldiers learn that she is a woman.


Changes To The Story Over The Years

Centuries after the poem, a 16th-century playwright named Xu Wei wrote an adaptation of the original poem for the stage. The play was named “The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father’s Place.”

Then a century later, the book titled "Romance of Sui and Tang" was penned by Chu Renhuo. The book offered a slightly different interpretation of Mulan’s story. Then in 2006, another book called Negotiating Masculinities in Late Imperial China by Martin W Huang also explored the story.


Is She Real?

Unfortunately, there is no clear proof that Mulan is a real person even though many people believe she was.

The mulanbook site claims Hubei was the original hometown of the warrior. However, historian Zhu Guozhen claims Mulan was born in Bozhou, and other academics alleged she comes from regions including Shanxi, Henan, and Hebei.


However, the general consensus is that Mulan is simply a fictitious character. Regardless of whether or not she was real, Mulan will always be one of the most popular Disney heroines. The 1998 Disney classic gave fans one of the most memorable quotes:

"The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of them all."