Hua Mulan is the heroine of a popular Chinese legend in which a woman disguises herself as a man and goes to war in place of her elderly father. In ancient China, the story was recorded in The Ballad of Mulan. It has since inspired a long line of films and theatrical productions, including Shen Yun’s dance Mulan Joins the Battle.

The exact period when Hua Mulan lived is unclear, but it is widely believed the story takes place during the Northern and Southern dynasties (386–589). Back then, outlying tribes invaded China’s central plains and the imperial government decreed that every household must send a man to the frontline. Mulan’s brother was too young and so her ailing elderly father had to go.

Concerned for his health, Mulan disguised herself as a man and took her father’s place in the war. She fought adeptly for 12 years, contributing to numerous victories. After the war ended, the emperor bestowed honors on her and wished to make Mulan a high-ranking official. Mulan declined, preferring to return home to care for her aging parents.

It was only when her fellow soldiers came to visit Mulan’s village that they discovered her secret…

The Ballad of Mulan

Sigh after sigh,
Mulan is weaving in front of her door.

One cannot hear the sound of the loom,
but only the poor girl’s sighs.

Ask her who is in her heart,
or who is on her mind.

No one is in her heart,
and no one is on her mind.

She saw the military drafts last night,
Khan is conscripting many soldiers.

A dozen draft lists,
every one with her father’s name.

Father has no grown son,
Mulan has no elder brother.

She decided to acquire a horse and saddle,
and enlist in father’s place.

In the east market she bought a horse,
in the west market a saddle.

In the north market she bought a bridle,
and in the south market a long whip.

At dawn she bid farewell to her father and mother,
at dusk camped by the Yellow River’s bank.

She could not hear her parents calling for their daughter,
only the waters of the river flowing.

At dawn she left the Yellow River,
at dusk she arrived at the Black Mountain.

She could not hear her parents calling for their daughter,
only the wild horses of Mount Yan neighing.

Traveling ten thousand miles to meet the battle,
passing mountains and ranges as though flying.


Bitter winds carry the sounds of the watchman’s bell,
pallid light shine on their iron armor.

Generals died in a hundred battles,
the strongest soldiers returned after ten years.

They returned to meet the emperor,
the Son of Heaven sitting in the imperial palace.

He recorded their merits on twelve scrolls,
and bestowed hundreds of thousands of rewards.

The Khan asks Mulan what she desired,
Mulan had no use for a grand minister’s title.

She asked for a swift steed to take her a thousand miles,
and bring the daughter back to her home.


When Father and Mother heard of her arrival,
they supported each other to the city gates.

When Elder Sister heard of her arrival,
she adorned herself and waited by the door.

When Younger Brother heard of her arrival,
he whetted his knife to prepare the swine and sheep.

“Open my east chamber door, I sit on my west chamber couch.
I remove my wartime uniform, and dress in my old-time robes.”

Facing the window she fixed her cloud-soft hair,
in the mirror she put on yellow flowers.

At the gate she met her comrades,
they were all surprised.

Fighting together for twelve years,
they never knew Mulan was a girl.

Male hares like to kick and stomp,
female hares have eyes misty and glazed.

But if the hares are running side-by-side,
who can tell which is he or she?

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