Fairytale Fridays: The Ballad of Mulan

Fairytale Fridays: The Ballad of Mulan

by Talia Trackim


Unfortunately, the original story of Mulan doesn’t feature a talking dragon.

In all seriousness, the story of Hua Mulan is a legend rooted in Chinese history. Though the time is uncertain, it is believed that she lived sometime during or before the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.). Mulan’s story was eventually recorded in the Ballad of Mulan, which describes how Hua Mulan took the place of her elderly father when he was drafted into the army by dressing up as a man. She immediately proved herself to be a competent and skilled soldier, and she fought for a total of twelve years. Hua Mulan is an inspiration for her dedication to her family and her country and for proving that a woman can do anything that a man can.


The Ballad of Mulan


Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,

Mu-lan weaves, facing the door.

You don't hear the shuttle's sound,

You only hear Daughter's sighs.

They ask Daughter who's in her heart,

They ask Daughter who's on her mind.

"No one is on Daughter's heart,

No one is on Daughter's mind.

Last night I saw the draft posters,

The Khan is calling many troops,

The army list is in twelve scrolls,

On every scroll there's Father's name.

Father has no grown-up son,

Mu-lan has no elder brother.

I want to buy a saddle and horse,

And serve in the army in Father's place."

In the East Market she buys a spirited horse,

In the West Market she buys a saddle,

In the South Market she buys a bridle,

In the North Market she buys a long whip.

At dawn she takes leave of Father and Mother,

In the evening camps on the Yellow River's bank.

She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,

She only hears the Yellow River's flowing water cry tsien tsien.

At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River,

In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain.

She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,

She only hears Mount Yen's nomad horses cry tsiu tsiu.

She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war,

She crosses passes and mountains like flying.

Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots,

Chilly light shines on iron armor.

Generals die in a hundred battles,

Stout soldiers return after ten years.

On her return she sees the Son of Heaven,

The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall.

He gives out promotions in twelve ranks

And prizes of a hundred thousand and more.

The Khan asks her what she desires.

"Mu-lan has no use for a minister's post.

I wish to ride a swift mount

To take me back to my home."

When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming

They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other.

When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming

She fixes her rouge, facing the door.

When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming

He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep.

"I open the door to my east chamber,

I sit on my couch in the west room,

I take off my wartime gown

And put on my old-time clothes."

Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair,

Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder

She goes out the door and sees her comrades.

Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed.

Traveling together for twelve years

They didn't know Mu-lan was a girl.

"The he-hare's feet go hop and skip,

The she-hare's eyes are muddled and fuddled.

Two hares running side by side close to the ground,

How can they tell if I am he or she?"



The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry By Han H. Frankel, Yale University Press, 1976.

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