Heroic women warriors as reflections of social and moral values
Mulan's Legend and Legacy in China and the United States
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Mulan, the warrior maiden who performed heroic deeds in battle while dressed as a male soldier, has had many incarnations from her first appearance as a heroine in an ancient Chinese folk ballad. Mulanís story was retold for centuries, extolling the filial virtue of the young woman who placed her father's honor and well-being above her own. With the publication of Maxine Hong Kingstonís The Woman Warrior in the late 1970s, Mulan first became familiar to American audiences who were fascinated with the extraordinary Asian American character. Mulanís story was recast yet again in the popular 1998 animated Disney film and its sequel.
In Mulanís Legend and Legacy in China and the United States, Lan Dong traces the development of this popular icon and asks, "Who is the real Mulan?" and "What does authenticity mean for the critic looking at this story?" Dong charts this characterís literary voyage across historical and geographical borders, discussing the narratives and images of Mulan over a long time span—from premodern China to the contemporary United States to Mulanís counter-migration back to her homeland.
As Dong shows, Mulan has been reinvented repeatedly in both China and the United States so that her character represents different agendas in each retelling—especially after she reached the western hemisphere. The dutiful and loyal daughter, the fierce, pregnant warrior, and the feisty teenaged heroine—each is Mulan representing an idea about female virtue at a particular time and place.
"Dong's engagement with probably the most emblematic figure in Asian American literature is timely and admirable. She provides a comprehensive account of the historical presence of the Mulan legend/Ballad in Chinese literature and a compelling discussion of the ways the story has evolved using a wealth of archival data on the legend through the centuries."
"This detailed, exhaustive exploration of Mulan's story from its earliest beginnings to its modern incarnations is essential to anyone interested in cross-cultural children's literature, Asian studies, and modern popular culture. With a lengthy bibliography that includes Chinese sources, it lights the way for future scholarship, and belongs in most academic libraries, especially where children's literature is studied."
"Scholars interested in the cross-cultural mutations of folktales as well as the surrounding cultural contexts that inform such iterations will find Dong's investigations fascinating."
"[C]ompelling.... In mapping the convoluted trajectory of the Mulan figure, this book adds significantly to transnational American studies by showing the necessity of knowledges of both American and Chinese cultures for the hybrid figure."
List of Figures
Lan Dong is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.