One of the biggest complaints about Disney’s animated Mulan is the fact that it is not entirely historically accurate. There are several discrepancies about the past that teach children the wrong message about this culture. Fortunately, the entire movie did not miss its mark, as it intermixes these falsities with real facts.
It can be hard to distinguish what is fact or fiction within the film, but a bit of research can uncover the truth. Mulan deserves to be remembered in a way that honors Chinese culture and does not stray off its path into territory that blurs the lines between true and false.
Updated on June 16th, 2022 by Jacob Wallin: With Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan being a controversial but successful adaptation, it is time to revisit the original animated version of the beloved story. Especially since the newest film changed quite a few things about the story of the first, it is worth looking back on what the original movie got right and wrong about Chinese history and culture. Both films are currently available on Disney + for those who would like to see how the new version stacks up, or revisit the original.
Things In Disney’s Mulan That Were Historically Accurate
The Invasion Of The Huns
Historians do believe that the Huns were responsible for invading the region of China where the film takes place during the time this story was set, according to China Highlights. The Huns lived to the north, in the Rouran State, although their leader in the film, Shan Yu, was not a real historical figure.
Little is known about the Huns in real life, but they were an important part of shaping ancient Asia and Europe. This group of nomadic people was one of the main reasons why fans love to watch this movie on Disney Plus.
Her Name Is Mulan
The film is based on a real Chinese ballad called Ballad of Mulan, and much like the film, it depicts a girl who leaves her home to join the Imperial army in her father’s place. The story has been retold several times over the years, and the ballad itself left plenty of room for interpretation. It dates all the way back to 386–581 AD at least, likely beginning in oral retellings and being written down significantly later. Unfortunately, with almost no way to verify its authenticity, no one knows if there is any truth behind the story, or if it comes from a place of fiction.
Piety And Loyalty Are Important Chinese Values
Piety and loyalty are two things that Mulan strived for in the film, as she sought to bring honor to her family. She wanted to support her father by allowing him to stay home, rather than die on a battlefield where he had no business being. Both of these values are in fact very important in Chinese culture. Mulan’s loyalty was shown time and time again throughout the movie, especially during the sad reunion with her father when she returned home with gifts to win back his favor.
Crickets Are Considered Lucky In Chinese Culture
Crickets are in fact symbols of luck in Chinese culture, and they were even kept in golden cages like they are in the film. This is one of the things that fans should know about the movie as it adds to the realism of the setting.
However, it is still a bit false as the cages did not begin to exist until the Tang Dynasty. Fans also doubt that this cricket would have survived for as long as it did, although that is part of the joy that makes up classic Disney movies.
Mulan Was Expected To Fill A Domestic Role
As shown by the movie’s first few scenes, Mulan was all set to be married off to a nice man as she was dressed in traditional garb and made to play the part of a wife. This was true of China as even in the ballad she went home following the war to become a weaver, even turning down a position of power in favor of returning to her family. This internal struggle does relate to one of her best quotes in the film, as well as the culture in which this film is set which adds to the realism and historical accuracy of it all in the eyes of viewers.
Things In Mulan That Are Not Historically Accurate
A Chinese Dragon Breathing Fire
Historically in Chinese culture, Chinese dragons do not breathe fire as their European counterparts do. Despite this fact, Mushu does so in the film several times, albeit a very small flame. According to China Highlights, Chinese dragons were also said to live in bodies of water, with many even having power over water to some extent, which is another fact that this movie missed in its creation. Mushu might be the best Disney sidekick, but he is far from being seen as a real Chinese dragon due to his lifestyle.
It Is Set In The Han Dynasty
The ballad is set back in the Han Dynasty, but there are many anachronisms in the film to the era as tea and rockets were not created until later. Tea drinking was not common practice until the Tang Dynasty but is portrayed heavily at the beginning of the film when Mulan receives a makeover.
Rockets were also not used in combat until the 12th century, so Mulan would not have been able to defeat Shan Yu with them at the end of the film. These are just a few hidden details that most fans do not notice about the film unless they have studied Chinese history.
Mulan’s Secret Is Discovered
In the movie, Mulan’s secret was exposed at the camp after she received a wound that required medical care, and Li Shang was told that she was a woman. However, in the ballad, she reveals her secret years later on her own terms after she returns home and invites all of her war buddies to visit. All of them are shocked that they spent their time serving together in the army for 12 years and never uncovered the truth, which only proves that she is the strongest Disney princess.
Mulan Had To Disguise Herself
The ballad states that Mulan had to disguise herself, however, there is some historical evidence that she did not actually have to do this at all. As per Science News for Students, there is some evidence that shows women warriors have existed in China since the time her story was created, which mutes the point that she would have to pretend to be a man at all. However, this would have put a damper on a few of the movie’s famous songs, so it’s probably better that Disney decided to stay true to the ballad rather than historical accuracy itself.
Mulan’s Feet Were Not Bound
A traditional fact of Chinese culture was that women would bind their feet. This practice would make it so their feet would fit into smaller shoes and was a common practice during the Han Dynasty and for long after. Foot binding was considered a symbol of beauty and status, but was painful and limited mobility. Disney never shows this practice, although it is assumed in the ballad that she unbound her feet before heading off on her journey into the heat of battle. This is definitely one of the biggest historical inaccuracies in Mulan but was left out for understandable reasons.
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