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The real story of Mulan

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Nov 5, 2018, 4:00 PM EST

All this month, SYFY FANGRRLS is celebrating Warrior Women Month, sharing the stories of female warriors in folklore, fantasy, and genre from around the world. These women — real and imagined alike — inspire us to make change and fight for what's right, no matter the cost.

Many people were introduced to the warrior woman Mulan in the Disney animated film of the same name, with Ming-Na Wen voicing the character and Lea Salonga providing the range for her singing. In her original tale, however, Hua Mulan was even more impressive. In honor of SYFY FANGRRLS' theme this November, Warrior Women Month, let us introduce you to the "real" Mulan.

Hua Mulan was a Chinese warrior woman who lived during the Northern and Southern dynasties, which was between 420 and 589 CE, and her story was told through the "Ballad of Mulan." Now, it’s possible that she was a real person, but it is largely believed that her story is fictional. Real or not, she has been an inspiration to women throughout the ages, and she even has a crater on Venus named after her.

There have been a number of stories about Hua Mulan in addition to the "Ballad of Mulan." A thousand years after that was written, there was a play by Xu Wei, and a story from the Qing dynasty called “Sui Tang Romance” which sets her story around 620 CE during the beginning of the Tang dynasty, which has another female warrior named Dou Xianniang who becomes Mulan’s bonded sister, or laotong. The first version of her story was written in the sixth century in the “Musical Records of Old and New," which later became a part of Chinese folklore.

In the original poem, Hua Mulan is sitting at her loom as the men in her family are asked to defend China in the army. She doesn’t want her old and sickly father to serve, and her brother is too young. She takes her father’s place in the army, with his blessing and that of her mother. Now, Mulan was already a good fighter who had been trained in martial arts, sword fighting and archery. Mulan fought for 12 years and is offered an official post, but asks for only a camel to get her back to her family. When she puts on traditionally female clothing, her fellow soldiers realize that she had been a woman the entire time.

In the "Sui Tang Romance" version of the story, first released in 1695, Mulan only has sisters and a baby son, so Mulan takes her father Hua Hu’s place in the army. The king’s daughter is also a warrior named Xianniang. She is thrilled to find out that Mulan is a woman who fights as well (think about that scene in Game of Thrones when Arya meets Brienne), and they become laotong. Sadly, in this version of the story, the king is taken down and the sisters surrender and offer to be put to death instead of the condemned men. They are not killed, however, and the Emperor’s mother gives Mulan money for her parents. Her father has died in her absence, and her mother has remarried. Mulan is ordered to become a concubine, so she kills herself.

There have been a number of onscreen versions of the story of Hua Mulan, with the first one happening in 1927, as well as plays and operas. A Chinese animated film version was also released in 1998, in which the characters are talking animals. The Disney animated film really brought the story of Mulan to Westerners, and many fans later watched its sequel, Mulan II. There are a number of books, and she even appears in the comic "Deadpool Killustrated" in 2013, where she, alongside others, sets out to stop Deadpool from killing literary characters. Disney is currently making a live-action version of the story of Hua Mulan, which will premiere on March 27, 2020, and stars Liu Yifei as Mulan, Donnie Yen as her mentor, Jason Scott Lee, Gong Li, Jet Li, and Tzi Ma. Xana Tan will play Hua Xiu, Mulan’s sister. The film is set to be directed by Niki Caro.

Real or not, the story of Hua Mulan is a powerful one about a woman who chooses to go against tradition and fight in place of her father.

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