Mulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States

Mulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 263
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    Mulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States
    Book Description:

    Mulan, the warrior maiden who performed heroic deeds in battle while dressed as a male soldier, has had many incarnations from her first appearance as a heroine in an ancient Chinese folk ballad. Mulan's story was retold for centuries, extolling the filial virtue of the young woman who placed her father's honor and well-being above her own. With the publication of Maxine Hong Kingston'sThe Woman Warriorin the late 1970s, Mulan first became familiar to American audiences who were fascinated with the extraordinary Asian American character. Mulan's story was recast yet again in the popular 1998 animated Disney film and its sequel.

    InMulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States, Lan Dong traces the development of this popular icon and asks, "Who is the real Mulan?" and "What does authenticity mean for the critic looking at this story?" Dong charts this character's literary voyage across historical and geographical borders, discussing the narratives and images of Mulan over a long time span-from premodern China to the contemporary United States to Mulan's counter-migration back to her homeland.

    As Dong shows, Mulan has been reinvented repeatedly in both China and the United States so that her character represents different agendas in each retelling-especially after she reached the western hemisphere. The dutiful and loyal daughter, the fierce, pregnant warrior, and the feisty teenaged heroine-each is Mulan representing an idea about female virtue at a particular time and place.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-972-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Prologue (pp. 1-8)

    The legend of Mulan—the maiden who performed heroic deeds in battle while dressed as a male soldier—appeared in China some time between the fourth and the sixth centuries and now is well known in North America.¹ This study investigates variations of Mulan’s story that feature a cross-dressed character. Certain elements of the story are consistent in its many retellings: a young woman takes the place of her elderly father in war, serves her country valiantly in disguise as a man, and returns home with triumph and honor to resume her womanly life. Mulan’s tale, despite its journey across...

  6. 2 Heroic Lineage: Military Women and Lady Knights-Errant in Premodern China (pp. 9-50)

    In the historical Western imagination patriarchy and patrilineal male kinship rigidly structure traditional Chinese society to the degree that women are deprived of fundamental rights and are inferior to men without exception. One missionary has commented that “[t]he condition of the Chinese woman is most pitiable…. Suffering, privation, contempt, all kinds of misery and degradation, seize on her in the cradle and accompany her pitilessly to the tomb” (Huc 1: 248). Abundant examples of female chastity, footbinding, the indentured servant-wife, and the cult of widow fidelity have been published in observations of Westerners. Patricia Ebrey has summarized: Nineteenth- and early...

  7. 3 From a Courageous Maiden in Legend to a Virtuous Icon in History (pp. 51-92)

    For folk stories that often first take shape in oral tradition, a tale’s transformation into literary form requires careful analysis “not only of the tale itself, but also of the motives and values of those responsible for its metamorphosis” (Hallett and Karasek 17). The legend of Mulan is such a tale. Between the globalized and animated reconfiguration presented by Disney and its accredited Chinese source, “Ballad of Mulan,” stand numerous variations. This chapter investigates what “metamorphosis” the character Mulan and her story have undergone in China and how these changes are conditioned by different motives, values, and circumstances. Because some...

  8. 4 The White Tiger Mythology: A Woman Warrior’s Autobiography (pp. 93-122)

    Just as the precise origin of Mulan’s legend in China eludes cultural historians, so does the period when her story and cultural influence began to migrate to other lands. By the twelfth century, for example, her story was known in neighboring Korea. In a study of female characters included inHistory of the Three Kingdoms, the twelfth-century Korean historiography, Hai-soon Lee observes that the history’s editor Kim Pusik briefly compared the Korean filial daughter Sõlssinyõ with Mulan. Sõlssinyõ accepted a marriage proposal so that her husband could take her elderly father’s place in the army, in effect offering herself to...

  9. 5 One Heroine, Many Characters: Mulan in American Picture Books (pp. 123-158)

    Robert D. San Souci, author of the children’s picture bookFa Mulan: The Story of A Woman Warrior(1998) and the film story for Disney’s animated featureMulan(1998), leads the reader to another valuable creative engagement with Mulan’s story in contemporary America.¹ Writers and artists of children’s literature have reimagined this character and represented her tale in many ways.² Although their texts arguably target young readers, they include elements for adult readers to comprehend in an attempt to appeal to adult mediators, such as parents, teachers, and librarians. Although the visualization of Mulan is not a contemporary American invention,...

  10. 6 Of Animation and Mulan’s International Fame (pp. 159-187)

    In Asia, film versions of Mulan’s story appeared through much of the twentieth century and long before the animated versions. In China, for example, two films appeared in 1927: the Minxin Film Company’sMulan congjun (Mulan Joins the Army)and the Tianyi Film Company’sHua Mulan congjun (Hua Mulan Joins the Army). In 1939, the Huacheng Company in Shanghai releasedMulan congjun (Mulan Joins the Army). In subsequent decades, two films with the same title appeared: the Beijing Film Studio released a film of the Yu opera performance titled Hua Mulan in 1956, featuring the famous opera singer Chang Xiangyu...

  11. 7 Epilogue (pp. 188-194)

    When researching Mulan’s character and lore, I started out with three touchstone images: the premodern Chinese heroine reflected in the “Ballad,” the Chinese American woman warrior depicted in Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and the hybrid displayed in the animated Disney version. By tracing the cross-cultural transformation of Mulan’s legend in this book, I have attempted to restore the connecting tissue among these images, and in the process I recovered many versions in-between and searched for the implications of the different variations. Although I mainly dealt with written texts and films, the oral tradition could not be neglected in the passage...

  12. Appendix: Selected English Translations of the “Ballad of Mulan,” Listed in Chronological Order (pp. 195-200)
  13. Notes (pp. 201-222)
  14. Bibliography (pp. 223-256)
  15. Index (pp. 257-264)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 265-266)


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