11. Mulan Joins the Army
In 1903, with China still under the Qing Dynasty, a play titled Mulan Joins the Army appeared. A male opera star, Mei Langfang, performed the role of Mulan. In the play, Mulan’s father plans to have her cousin, an orphan named Mushu, join the army in his stead. Mushu however has other plans. When Mulan fails to shame her cousin into substituting for her father in the army, she obtains his permission to do so, under her cousin’s name. Calling Mushu a coward, she agrees to enter the army, in male dress. Mushu remains at home in her place, dressed as a woman, with bound feet. Her superiors in the army are at first suspicious of her abilities as a warrior and leader of men, in part because of her slight build and delicate features. She wins their respect and is assigned command of a large body of troops.
When Mulan arrives at the front during the war against the Xiongnu, she learns the Chinese troops were in a precarious position and about to suffer a rout. She leads her troops into the fray, saves the life of the overall commander of the Chinese forces, and crushes the enemy army. Many are driven into a partially frozen sea and drowned. As in other renderings of the Mulan legend, the impressed and grateful emperor offers Mulan awards and a government position, which she rejects. The play does not include the troops being amazed when they learn of Mulan being a woman, one of the few times the story is related without the twist at the end.