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  • Chinese/Japanese: 花木蘭 (Huā Mùlán / Ka Mokuran, or Muuran)

Hua Mulan is a legendary figure who features as the chief protagonist in the 5th-6th century anonymous Chinese "Ballad of Mulan" (木蘭辭, Mùlán cí); though a woman, she disguises herself as a man so that she can fight alongside the men against her people's enemies. Though most well-known in Chinese, it is believed that the story originates among one of the steppe nomad peoples of the Chinese hinterlands, most likely the Xianbei. All the people and places which feature in the story are of the steppelands near or beyond China's northern borders.

The Ballad, but sixty-five lines long in Arthur Waley's English translation, speaks very little of Mulan's time with the army, either of her efforts to sneak in and blend in, or of her time in battle. War and battle, in fact, feature very little in the story, which focuses chiefly on Mulan's determination to take her father's place in battle, and of her return afterwards to being the dutiful daughter she had always been. Once the war is won, and the Son of Heaven, or Khan (as he is represented in Waley's translation), is offering rewards to each of the men, Mulan requests simply to be provided a sturdy camel that will bring her home. Once home, she puts on her dress and makeup, and returns to life as a woman. The Ballad ends by speaking of her reunion with her fellow soldiers, who had never known, for twelve years of war, that she was a woman, and are thus surprised to see her made-up, and dressed, as one now.

The story has been adapted numerous times into a variety of formats; perhaps most famous, in the West at least, is the 1998 animated feature by Disney.


  • Arthur Waley (trans.), "The Ballad of Mulan," in Victor Mair (ed.), The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, Columbia University Press (2000), 267-269.