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Mulan: A Woman of Virtue
Xiao Feng

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The ancient Chinese tale of Mulan, performed in a dance in NTDTV's Chinese New Year Spectacular, depicts the story of a heroine who lived more than a millennium ago. Despite the passage of time, Mulan is known to nearly every household in China.

Hua Mulan was born during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 A.D.). The hometown and birth year of Mulan are unclear. Yet records from Henan Province's Shangqiu County Annals indicate that Mulan was from Qiuhuasong Village.

To spare her elderly father from a brutal military draft, she joins the army in his place disguised as a male soldier. After returning triumphantly from years of war, she sheds her war clothes and devotes life to serving her parents in their home village. Her story was recorded in the famous Chinese poem, "Ballad of Mulan."

In the Chinese New Year Spectacular, the curtain opens to a serene village. Mulan is at home with her elderly father; she is seen helping him with daily chores. Suddenly, smoke in the distance signifies the beginning of war. Her father draws his sword, yet is so weak that he stumbles. Mulan rushes to catch him and takes his sword. Mulan, a practitioner of martial arts since childhood, plays with the saber as smoothly as the clouds in the sky or a flowing stream. Suddenly, a horse draws near, and Mulan jumps on, riding off into battle.

Chinese tradition considers loyalty and filial piety to be essential characteristics for every person. The "Ballad of Mulan" illustrates these treasured traits. The story tells of Mulan's family: her parents, an elder sister and younger brother.

To protect the border from invaders, China's emperor orders men throughout the land to fight for the country. Her father, Hua Hu, an army reservist, suffers from poor health and is too old and weak to join the army, yet he cannot defy the emperor's wishes. Mulan becomes very concerned for her father. She's sitting in front of a loom, yet is unable to focus on her weaving. In the end, she decides to dress up as a man and join the army on her father's behalf.

Before leaving, she purchases a fine steed as well as a saddle, reins, and a long whip. Mulan must journey to the far northern border on her own—unheard of for a young female in those days.

"At dawn Mulan bids farewell to father and mother, At dusk she sleeps at the Yellow River's bank," describes the classic Chinese poem, the "Ballad of Mulan." "The calling of father and mother is not heard, But only the running water of the Yellow River. When daylight breaks she left the Yellow River, At night she arrives at the Black Mountain top; The calling of father and mother is not heard, But only the running horses of the nomadic army in Mount Yan."

For 12 years, Mulan guards the border. Eventually, her valor and decisiveness win her the title of general. Yet even after those long years, her subordinates remain unaware that Mulan is a woman.

"Traveling ten thousand miles, Mulan fights in the battlefields, Overcoming impasses and mountains swiftly as though flying. The frigid wind carries the watchman's rattle in the northern country, The moonlight shines on the iron armors in cold nights. Having fought hundreds of life and death battles, Over ten years pass, and as a warrior Mulan returns," continues the Ballad.

She politely declines the emperor's reward and high-ranking government position. Instead, she merely asks to "borrow the camel's feet that travel swiftly to take me back to my home," ("Ballad of Mulan") so that she can once again take care of her aging parents.

Mulan returns and her elderly parents greet her holding each other. Her sister has heard of Mulan's return and dresses up for the occasion. Her brother sharpens his knife in preparation for the pig and sheep that will honor his valiant sister's return. Through twelve years of war with her life in danger—and 12 years of hiding her true identity—Mulan sheds her wartime clothing and returns to wearing her old dress. When she later visits army friends, they are shocked and amazed. Having won glory and victory, she reclaims her womanhood, and dutifully cares for her parents. Mulan was a special woman that embodied many traditional virtues, including loyalty, filial piety, wisdom, and courage.

Through touching stories like Mulan's, traditional Chinese culture has fostered generation after generation of Chinese people. This tradition teaches the virtues of courtesy, integrity, righteousness, personal cultivation, respecting elders, caring for the young, accumulation of virtue, good deed, tolerance, and consideration of others. The deep and profound traditional Chinese culture is sustained through these treasured qualities.

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