A Woman to Know: Hua Mulan

I want to buy a saddle and horse and serve in the army in Father's place. — The Ballad of Hua Mulan

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Another one of those "is she a legend or a real woman *hidden* as a legend?" women. According to the Ballad of Hua Mulan, a sixth century Chinese epic poem, the story goes much the same way as the Disney movie: in the dead of night, Mulan disguises her beauty under men's clothes, to take her father's place in the war. She's lauded as a valiant warrior, and after the war, when she reveals her true gender, she's still heralded by her comrades and regarded as a national heroine.

In the historical retelling, however, Mulan's story doesn't have the picture-perfect Disney ending. After 12 years fighting the Huns, she returns to her hometown. There, she finds that her father has died, and her mother has remarried -- and Mulan is still expected to settle down and marry. Rather than live that life again, she decides to commit suicide and "join her father." "I'm a girl," she tells her family. "But I have been through war, and I have done enough."

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