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Is Mulan A True Story? Answered by a native Chinese

A Ballad in The 500s China

Everyone knows that Mulan is an old Chinese tale. But is it just a story? Or is Mulan real? Having grown up in China, I learned the ballad of Mulan in 7th grade. Just like you, I had wondered if this brave and extraordinary young woman ever existed in real history. 

The question still evokes a lot of discussions, but just like the Homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey, Mulan is thought to be loosely based on some facts.

Wikisource summarizes it well:

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The “Ballad of Mulan” is a folk song from Northern Dynasties China; it recounts the story of Mulan, a girl who goes to war in place of her father. The pseudo-historical personage of Mulan probably lived in the fifth century, when the Toba, who dominated northern China, was engaged in a long war with the Rouran on their northern frontier. It is thought the ballad was collected into an anthology of yuefu in the mid-sixth century and later popularized during the Tang dynasty.

The ballad of Mulan is pretty short in ancient Chinese, here is a picture of it written in Chinese:

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Nprtykty, 03/28/2021

Brilliant idea with great information

I’ve been using RunPee for a few years now and it’s basically a requirement of going to the movies for me. The best part of course are the “pee times” that give you cues, synopses and times for when you can pee without missing the most important parts of the movie. There is also information about the credits- length, extras and if there are any extra scenes at the wayyy end. Super helpful to just know that it is or isn’t worth staying. There is a timer function that will buzz your phone when it’s a good time to pee. I also appreciate that the app is very conscientious about it being an app you use in a theater- dark background, all silent alarms etc. I will always enjoy the experience of the theater even if I could watch things at home- but I’ve even used it at home to check for things like after credit scenes or other information too.

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I’ll Forget My Own Name Before I Forget The First Line of Mulan

I had to recite the ballad of Mulan when I was around 14, and I will never forget the first line of this ballad. Why? Cause it sounds like this: “Gee gee foo gee gee, Mulan done who zhi”. Just to be clear, Mandarin does not normally sound like this. Because technically, it’s not Mandarin, it’s ancient Chinese. I’m no linguist, but just to put things in perspective, the level of difference between Mandarin and ancient Chinese is similar to the difference between Latin and English. 

(Here is a video about ancient Chinese pronunciations from one of my favorite YouTube channel NativeLang.) 

How Close Is The Disney Version of Mulan?

I rewatched the 1998 animated Mulan and found some very interesting tweaks of the story.

  • At the very beginning of the movie, Mulan has a little puppy she called “little brother.” Funny enough, in the ballad, Mulan did have a little brother, and guess what? He’s a real boy!

  • There are so many mentions in the movie where the characters refer to their country as “China”. I don’t want to dig into this too much, otherwise, we would be here all day. Just note this: “China” in Chinese is “中国”. The literal meaning of the word is “middle country”. It has appeared in ancient scripts but was used more as an adjective or indication of a geographical area. In ancient Chinese history, countries are more often named as “dynasties”. No one called their country China until very recently.
  • The ballad only focuses on Mulan disguising herself and going to war in place of her father. Then returning after 10 years. The romance, ancestors, Mushu dragon, the “perfect bride” concept, are all added to the story by the movie creators. It did make the story a lot more exciting and complete. The Chinese have made TV shows that also included romance. Although I have to say, the story is definitely Americanized. Or should I say, Hollywoodized? For one thing, Chinese dragons don’t sound like Eddie Murphy at all. 🙂

 I found a translation of the ballad of Mulan that is pretty literal if you are interested. 

Don’t miss your favorite movie moments because you have to pee or need a snack. Use the RunPee app (Androidor iPhone) when you go to the movies. We have Peetimes for all wide release films every week, including Twisters, Fly Me To The Moon, Despicable Me 4, A Quiet Place: Day One, Inside Out 2 and coming soon, Deadpool & Wolverien, Borderlands, Alien: Romulus and many others. We have literally thousands of Peetimes—from classic movies through today’s blockbusters. You can also keep up with movie news and reviews on our blog, or by following us on Twitter @RunPee. If there’s a new film out there, we’ve got your bladder covered.

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