The Real Legend of Hua Mulan
The Real Legend of Hua Mulan

The Real Legend of Hua Mulan

Larry Holzwarth - September 15, 2020

The Real Legend of Hua Mulan
Magnolia blossoms remain an important symbol of Chinese culture. Amazon

20. The story behind Mulan’s name

Mulan is often interpreted in English as magnolia, which is at best an imprecise reference. Her most often used surname in the West is Hua, interpreted as flower. Magnolia blossoms have long cultural significance in China, making her name a symbolic one. Her surname is reported differently in different eras, in the Ming Dynasty she was referred to as Zhu, while in the Qing Dynasty it was Wei. Other sources use Fa, the name she was given in the Disney animated film. The confusion over the family name leads some to speculate that the character of Mulan was an amalgam of several women warriors, with the story embellished for dramatic or political purposes.

This theory is supported by Mulan’s history of reappearing in times of crisis throughout Chinese history. Her story is taught in Chinese schools, as an example of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the people and the state. In China, she is considered to be legendary, though with some basis in fact. Despite the many contradictions built within her legend notwithstanding, she is honored throughout China and around the world. In 1991 a crater on the planet Venus was named Hua Mulan in her honor. The 1998 Disney animated film was translated into more than 30 languages and was a global success, though it was less popular in China, where the public found it deviated too much from the legend of the heroine. After sixteen centuries, the question of Mulan’s historicity is largely irrelevant.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Dramatic Story Behind Disney’s Mulan”. Natalia Klimczak, Ancient Origins. May 29, 2020

“Disney’s Mulan may be a myth, but Fuhao’s is as intriguing as it is true”. Wee Kek Koon, South China Morning Post. February 13, 2016

“Ballad of Mulan”. Jack Yuan translator, 2006

“The history of Mulan, from a 6th-century ballad to the live-action Disney movie”. Constance Grady, Vox. September 4, 2020

“The Evolution of the Ballad of Mulan”. Mari Ness, September 3, 2020

“Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend”. Shiamin Kwa. 2010

“Hua Mulan”. Entry, June 14, 2018

“The History Behind the Legend of Mulan”. Philip Naudus,

“The Woman Warrior”. Maxine Hong Kingston. 2010

“The Controversial Origins of the Story Behind Mulan”. Suyin Hayes, TIME Magazine. September 4, 2020

“Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States”. Lan Dong. 2011