The Disney animated film, Mulan, has increased the knowledge and interest in the historical woman and her story. The reality is Hua Mulan is a legend, originally described in the poem The Ballad of Mulan (written 400-589), but there is a historical consensus that she could have been real, her name lost to the ages. But her power and her story aren’t diminished by this fact. If anything, the legend provides insight into a society that willingly recognized the capability and capacity of a woman to be a great warrior. Fu Hao, a great General, strategist, and high priestess lived 200-400 years prior to the writing of the great ballad. Fu Hao’s extraordinary ability is the Hua Mulan myth’s own legacy. Hao is Mulan’s own cultural, female ancestor. Reminders reminded society that Mulan and Hao were both strong, strategic, talented people who happened to be women. And this suggests perhaps, though extraordinary, these women’s stories may not be as unusual in ancient China.

In the Mulan Ballad,  Mulan is at her loom as one male from each famiy is called to serve and defend the Chinese Army. Her father is old and weak, and Mulan decides that she will take his place. Her parents support her decision and the fact that she is skilled in fighting, archery, and swordplay suggests that Mulan’s story isn’t necessarily an aberration. She fights for 12 years for the Chinese Army, defending her homeland. When offered an official post, she seeks only to return to her family and seeks a swift horse. Once home, she dresses in her own clothes and meets with her old Army buddies, who realize she was a woman. She says to them “They say the male rabbit likes to hop and leap, while the female rabbit prefers to sit still.  But in times of danger, when two rabbits scurry by, who can tell male from female?” Accepted by her fellow soldiers, her story becomes a legend of the land.

Is she real? Does it matter?

As Albus Dumbledore once said “Of course it is happening inside your head…but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”  Just because Mulan’s story may be more folklore than straight history doesn’t mean her legacy doesn’t matter, or means any less. The story has power and that power provides elements of inspiration. Afterall, Hua Mulan’s story is entirely plausible, possibly, and likely true under a lost name.

Her story is representative of the millions of women who fought for their family, their friends, their country and did it, not for recognition, but out of love and duty. Their stories are lost to time, and the whims of history. But in remembering one woman who may have done extraordinary things 1500 years ago, our knowledge of the acts and abilities and capabilities of women expands and reminds us, women are so much more than the sum of their parts.

[By Kruuth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons]