Mari Ness on Mulan

Mari Ness does the best reviews of fairy tales and adjacent stories. Here’s her post at about Mulan.

“Mulan shi,” the original ballad, is extremely short—only a few hundred lines—and Mulan’s story within the ballad is even shorter than that, since the last few lines are about rabbits. As the ballad begins, Mulan is weaving, worried because her father is about to be drafted into the military. Since she has no brothers, Mulan purchases military equipment and joins the army in her father’s place. Ten years later, after the death of their general, the army returns home, and Mulan is honored by the emperor.

In a great touch, all she wants from the ceremony is a camel, so she can ride it home. 

I’m dying to see the last few lines about rabbits! And, if you feel the same way, here is a pdf version of the ballad, in Mandarin and then a direct translation that looks like it’s word-for-word; then, last, a smoother, more readable English translation. I will quote the two lines about rabbits:

The male rabbit hops from the beginning, the female rabbit’s eyes are misty.

Both rabbits are running along the ground; how can you tell whether I am male or female?

That last line seems relevant to the story, but that first rabbit line is mysterious. A footnote suggests that this line is supposed to describe how to distinguish between male and female rabbits, which seems plausible.

As you’d expect, Mari Ness goes into considerable detail about the history and many versions of this story.

As a heroine who could be, as needed, Chinese or half Chinese, whose story could end happily, or sadly, or with a romantic marriage, or with celibacy, Mulan was not only popular, but could be used in a number of ways

Good article — click through if you have a minute.

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