One of the biggest complaints about Disney’s animated Mulan is that it’s not exactly historically accurate. There are several inconsistencies in the past that teach children the wrong idea about this culture. Fortunately, the whole movie didn’t miss, as it mixes these falsehoods with real facts.
It may be difficult to distinguish what is true and what is fiction in the film, but a little research can reveal the truth. Mulan deserves to be remembered in such a way that she honors Chinese culture and does not deviate from her path to a territory that blurs the boundaries between truth and falsehood.
Updated by Jacob Vallin on June 16, 2022: Given that Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan is an ambiguous but successful adaptation, it’s time to revisit the original animated version of the beloved story. Especially since the newest film has changed a lot in the history of the first one, it’s worth looking back at what was right and wrong in the original film regarding Chinese history and culture. Both films are currently available on Disney+ for those who would like to see what the new version looks like, or review the original.
Things in Disney’s “Mulan” That Were Historically Accurate
The invasion of the Huns
Historians do believe that the Huns are responsible for invading the region of China where the film is set at the time this story was set, according to China Highlights. The Huns lived further north, in the state of Zhuzhan, although their leader in the film Shan Yu was not a real historical figure.
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Little is known about the Huns in real life, but they were an important part of the formation of ancient Asia and Europe. This group of nomadic people was one of the main reasons why fans like to watch this movie on Disney Plus.
Her name is Mulan
The film is based on a real Chinese ballad called “The Ballad of Mulan” and, as in the film, depicts a girl who leaves her home to join the imperial army instead of her father. The story has been retold several times over the years, and the ballad itself has left a lot of room for interpretation. It dates back to 386-581 AD, at least probably starting with oral retellings and writing down much later. Unfortunately, there is almost no way to verify its authenticity, and no one knows if there is any truth in this story or if it comes from fiction.
Piety and loyalty are important Chinese values
Piety and loyalty are two things Mulan aspired to in the film as she sought to glorify her family. She wanted to support her father by letting him stay at home instead of dying on the battlefield where he had nothing to do. Both of these values are actually very important in Chinese culture. Mulan’s loyalty was shown again and again throughout the film, especially during the sad reunion with her father, when she returned home with gifts to return his favor.
Crickets are considered lucky in Chinese culture
Crickets are actually symbols of good luck in Chinese culture, and they were even kept in golden cages, like in the movie. This is one of the things fans should know about the movie, as it adds realism to the setting.
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However, this is still a bit incorrect as the cells did not exist before the Tang Dynasty. Fans also doubt that this cricket would have lasted that long, even though it’s part of the joy that makes up classic Disney movies.
Mulan was expected to play a domestic role
As the first few scenes of the film showed, Mulan was ready to marry a good man, as she was dressed in traditional clothes and was called to play the role of a wife. This was also true for China, as even in the ballad she returned home after the war to become a weaver, even giving up power in favor of returning to her family. This internal struggle is really connected with one of her best quotes in the film, as well as with the culture in which this film takes place, which adds realism and historical authenticity to all this in the eyes of the audience.
Things in “Mulan” that historically do not correspond to reality
Chinese dragon spewing flames
Historically in Chinese culture, Chinese dragons do not breathe fire like their European counterparts. Despite this, Mushu does it several times in the film, albeit very weakly. According to China Highlights, Chinese dragons also lived in reservoirs, and many of them even had power over water to some extent, which is another fact that this film missed when creating. Mushu may be Disney’s best assistant, but he is far from being considered a real Chinese dragon because of his lifestyle.
The action takes place during the Han Dynasty
The ballad takes place during the Han Dynasty, but there are many anachronisms of that era in the film, since tea and rockets were created later. Tea drinking was not a common practice before the Tang Dynasty, but he suffered a lot at the beginning of the film when Mulan transforms.
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Missiles 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 don’t notice in the movie unless they study Chinese history.
Mulan’s secret is revealed
In the film, Mulan’s secret was revealed in the camp after she received a wound that required medical attention, and Lee Shan 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 her comrades-in-arms to visit. They are all shocked that they served together in the army for 12 years and never revealed the truth, which only proves that she is the strongest Disney princess.
Mulan had to disguise herself
The ballad says that Mulan had to disguise herself, but there is some historical evidence that in fact she did not need to do this at all. According to Science News for students, there is some evidence that female warriors have existed in China since her story was created, which mutes the fact that she would have had to pretend to be a man at all. However, it might have muted some of the movie’s famous songs, so it’s probably better if Disney decided to stay true to the ballad rather than the historical accuracy itself.
Mulan’s legs were not tied
A traditional fact of Chinese culture was that women tied their feet. This practice allowed their feet to fit into smaller shoes and was a common practice during the Han Dynasty and long after. Leg bandaging was considered a symbol of beauty and status, but it was painful and limited mobility. Disney never shows this practice, although the ballad suggests that she untied her legs before embarking on a journey into the heat of battle. This is certainly one of the biggest historical inaccuracies in Mulan, but it was overlooked for obvious reasons.