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China’s Woman Warrior Goes America Again: The Disneyfication of Mulan

China's Woman Warrior Goes America Again: The Disneyfication of Mulan

Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Mulan has develop into a recurring matter of debate on social media just lately. The film is much-anticipated in China, however there are additionally essential voices suggesting the American Disney firm “doesn’t perceive China in any respect.” How ‘Chinese language’ is Disney’s Mulan actually? 

Ever since information got here out that Disney would flip Mulan right into a live-action film the subject has been incessantly popping up within the prime trending lists on Chinese language social media.

The film has been particularly prime trending on Weibo this week because the official trailer was launched.

Mulan is the much-anticipated live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated Mulan film, which tells the story of the legendary feminine warrior Hua Mulan (花木兰) who disguises as a person to take her father’s place within the military.

Over current years, Disney has launched and introduced the live-action variations of lots of its animated classics. Remakes similar to Cinderella (2015), The Jungle E-book (2016), Magnificence and the Beast (2017), Dumbo (2019), and Aladdin (2019), have all been profitable and, apart from Mulan, they’re now being adopted up by the remakes of The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Woman and the Tramp, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Disney’s new Mulan film is directed by the New Zealand movie director Niki Caro.

The position of Mulan can be performed by the (mainland-born) Chinese language American actress Crystal Liu Fei (刘亦菲). The movie additionally options Yoson An as Mulan’s love curiosity, Tzi Ma as Mulan’s father, Donnie Yen as Mulan’s Commander mentor, Gong Li because the evil witch, Jason Scott Lee because the enemy warrior chief, and Jet Li because the Emperor of China.



“People actually do not know about China.“

Because the story of Mulan is a Chinese language legend that has a historical past of over 1500 years in China, Chinese language audiences are notably invested within the matter of the upcoming Disney film. Each new element regarding Mulan appears to turn into one other trending matter on social media.

On Weibo, “Disney’s Mulan” (#迪士尼花木兰#) has seen over 420 million views by now, whereas the hashtag “Mulan Trailer” (#花木兰预告#) alone acquired a staggering 1.2 billion views.

Following the discharge of the film poster made by Chinese language visible artist Chen Man, the relating hashtag (#花木兰海报是陈漫拍的#) was seen greater than 260 million occasions.

A subject devoted to the lacking Mushu, a speaking dragon that’s the closest companion to Mulan within the animated movie, additionally acquired 310 million views (#花木兰里没有木须龙#).

On-line discussions on Mulan present that there already is various criticism on the film and its historic accuracy, regardless that its launch continues to be months away.

Some commenters criticized Mulan’s make-up in one of many film scenes as being too exaggerated and unflattering.

The truth that the actors within the film all converse English additionally didn’t sit nicely with some individuals, writing: “Why is all of it in English?!” and “I perceive the logic, however why would a gaggle of Chinese language individuals converse English whereas it’s filmed in China? Even when it’s a Disney film, it appears awkward.”

One other controversy that has been particularly making its rounds for the previous few days is the one referring to the normal tulou spherical communal residences which are featured within the film trailer (#花木兰 福建土楼#, 170 million clicks).

The tulou are Chinese language rural, earthen dwellings. Though the buildings are a part of Chinese language conventional structure, they’re additionally distinctive to mountainous areas in Fujian province. Not solely is Mulan not from Fujian, her story additionally takes place lengthy earlier than these tulou have been constructed – one thing that many Chinese language netizens discover “nonsensical” and “distracting.”

“People actually do not know about China,” some individuals on Weibo commented, with others writing: “We will’t anticipate Disney to analysis the whole lot, however they will’t not do analysis. They shouldn’t let Mulan stay in a tulou simply because it seems to be fairly, she shouldn’t be from Fujian!”

“Why on earth would she stay in a tulou,” others write: “Isn’t she a northerner?”

“Foreigners simply don’t perceive China,” one amongst hundreds of commenters stated.

One other Weibo consumer writes: “People ought to first completely perceive the Northern and Southern Dynasties, and Chinese language geography, and Mulan’s ethnic background, after which they may give it one other attempt.”



“The which means of the story of Mulan varies relying on how it’s advised, when it’s informed, and by whom it’s advised.“

Though many individuals outdoors of China solely find out about Mulan by way of the 1998 Disney animation that made the story of this Chinese language warrior go international, Hua Mulan’s story has seen continued reputation in China for greater than a thousand years.

The primary recognized written model of the Mulan legend is the nameless sixth-century Poem of Mulan (木兰辞), adopted by different performs and novels within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Edwards 2016, 19-20; Li 2018, 368).

Particularly because the twentieth century, the story of Mulan has turn into a recurring theme in China’s fashionable tradition, showing in numerous performs, films, TV collection, operas, and even in video games. A few of China’s earliest movies have been about Mulan; from 1927 to 1939, three totally different movies got here out on the feminine heroine, all titled Mulan Joins the Military (木兰从军).

“Mulan Joins the Military” is a 1939 Chinese language historic struggle concerning the legend of Hua Mulan.

The which means of the Mulan legend varies relying on how it’s advised, when it’s informed, and by whom it’s advised. The story has seen a centuries-long interval of change and improvement, with totally different views being introduced relying on the area and style (Kwa & Idema 2010, xii).

The essential define of the story is all the time the identical: Mulan is the daughter who disguises as a person to guard her father and take his place within the military, the place she fights for twelve years earlier than being promoted to a high-ranking place by the emperor. Mulan declines and asks for an honorable discharge as an alternative, so she will return house to her household. As soon as she is residence, Mulan modifications into ladies’s clothes once more.

Chastity, filial piety, feminism, perseverance, sacrifice, militarism, patriotism – the Mulan story has all of it, however which motives are given prominence is all the time totally different. Inside China, the Mulan narrative is said to problems with China’s nationwide id and political objectives.

In Chinese language literary variations earlier than the 20 th century, Mulan is introduced as a northerner of unsure ethnicity, a determine of resistance, who sacrifices her personal security to guard her father and present filial piety. Confucian values and the significance of household are on the core of the Mulan story (Edwards 2016, 19-20).

In Chinese language variations after the 20 th century, Mulan is implicitly introduced as being Han Chinese language and as a “loyal patriot defending China.” The main target is not solely on Mulan giving up her personal freedom for the sake of her father; it’s her militarised sacrifice to the state and the significance of patriotism that’s highlighted as an alternative (ibid., 19-20).

With Disney’s 1998 adaptation of Mulan as an animated movie, the primary focus of the story was once more shifted. Disney introduced Mulan not a lot as a patriot or as a Confucian daughter, however as a considerably goofy and free-spirited younger lady on her “Americanized self-realization journey” (Li 2018, 362-363).

Mulan’s particular person coming of age and feminist story is echoed within the movie’s Reflection track, through which Mulan sings:

“I’m now
In a world the place I’ve to cover my coronary heart
And what I consider in
However by some means
I’ll present the world
What’s inside my coronary heart
And be beloved for who I’m”

Though the narrative of the younger lady who finds her personal true voice resonated with many all over the world – Mulan turned a world field workplace smash hit -, it didn’t resonate with Chinese language audiences.

In China, the Disney movie grossed solely about one-sixth of its anticipated field workplace revenue and was even among the many lowest scoring massive imported US movies since 1994 (Li 2018, 362-363).

In line with scholar Lan Dong, the Mulan flop in China indicated Disney’s failure to anticipate how the movie can be acquired in China and the way the Chinese language viewers’s familiarity with Mulan’s story had already formed their expectations of the movie (ibid.): Disney’s Mulan clearly was not the identical as China’s Mulan.



“The animated Mulan movie clearly Disneyfied the story by enjoying into numerous American stereotypes of feudal China.“

However who’s “China’s Mulan”? And who’s “Disney’s Mulan”?

As described, Chinese language variations of Mulan have considerably modified by way of occasions. And Disney’s Mulan of 2020 can also be very totally different from the Disney princess that stole the hearts of viewers all over the world in 1998.

Judging from the trailer, the upcoming Mulan will probably be a way more critical film that focuses on the motion and martial arts, and appears to symbolize Mulan as a self-sacrificing lady warrior (nothing goofy).

There’s an obvious danger on this route taken by Disney. On Chinese language social media, the complaints concerning the film relate principally to the film not being ‘Chinese language’ sufficient on the subject of historic accuracy and language.

In English-language media, the film is criticized for omitting the speaking dragon and the songs and for “bowing to China’s nationalistic agenda” with its patriotic theme (Jingan Younger in The Guardian, additionally see right here and right here).

The Disney firm goals to entertain youngsters and adults all around the globe. In doing so, they convert “cultural capital” to “financial capital” and create content material with common attraction for international audiences, nearly all the time requiring business concessions to adapt to tastes and expectations of their mass viewers.

Since tastes and viewers expectations change over time, it appears logical for Disney to make totally different decisions for its Mulan function movie in 2020 than it did in 1998, and never solely as a result of the corporate may need discovered from its previous errors in mainland China. China’s position on the planet, and the way individuals view China, has additionally tremendously modified over the previous twenty years.

Nationwide cultures, tales, and legends undergo a strategy of ‘Disneyfication’ as soon as they turned a part of the Disney canon. The time period ‘Disneyfication’ has been coined because the 1990s to explain this phenomenon and has been utilized in numerous methods since.

Talking of globalization and literature, writer David Damrosch (What’s World Literature?, 2003) makes use of ‘Disneyfication’ to explain what number of overseas literary works will solely be translated and bought within the West when its content material ‘matches’ the picture audiences have of that sure tradition. What stays is definitely a ‘pretend’ cultural product that holds up sure stereotypes and clichés with a purpose to please the viewers (Koetse 2010).

Within the 1998 animated movie, Mulan was clearly ‘Disneyfied’ by enjoying into numerous American values and stereotypes of feudal China that have been most dominant on the time.

Though the upcoming Mulan film shall be very totally different from its animated predecessor, we already know that it’ll play with a few of these stereotypes once more in a means that you may name ‘market real looking’: viewers will see an English-speaking Mulan that lives in a standard Fujian tulou constructing. A few of the sceneries and settings may have completely nothing to do with the genuine story, however rather more to do with how viewers all over the world now think about China.

The film will undoubtedly current people heroine Mulan and historic China in a means that’s aesthetically pleasing and accessible, making Mulan and her story straightforward to know, digest, and love.



“For a lot of Chinese language viewers, Mulan has turn out to be ‘too American’, whereas overseas media criticize the movie for being ‘too Chinese language.’“

The irony within the criticism that has emerged over Disney’s Mulan lately, is that within the eyes of many Chinese language viewers, Mulan has develop into ‘too American’, whereas overseas media criticize the manufacturing for being ‘too Chinese language.’

That is not at all the primary time the Disney firm is underneath assault for the best way by which it adapts native legends or tales into worldwide function movies.

With Pocahontas, Disney was accused of “whitewashing horrific previous,” the Moana film was stated to point out “insensitivity to Polynesian cultures,” some critics discovered Aladdin to be “rooted by racism and Orientalism,” and lately, Disney’s option to forged a black actress for the remake of The Little Mermaid triggered controversy for eradicating “the essence of Ariel.”

There are two sides to the controversial ‘Disneyfication’ coin. On the one hand, one might argue that a number of the cultural worth of the unique native myths, legends, and tales are misplaced as soon as they’re reworked and simplified to fulfill mass market demand.

Then again, the Disney company additionally really makes these native tales go international and in doing so, additional provides to their cultural significance and worldwide recognition.

Mulan is now a Chinese language legend that has gone past its borders and is not ‘really Chinese language’ – no matter which may imply. She has grow to be part of individuals’s childhood reminiscences and in style tradition in lots of nations all over the world.

Simply as The Little Mermaid not solely belongs to the realm of feudal Nordic folklore, Quasimodo not simply exists in French literary canon, and simply as Aladdin has turn into a lot greater than a part of the The Thousand and One Nights, Mulan is now additionally greater than a Chinese language people heroine. She has turn into a world-famous lady warrior whose story will hold evolving for the years to return.

Concerning the upcoming Mulan film and its criticism, one Weibo commenter writes: “I discover it arduous to know why individuals are so fussy. They’ve an issue with Mulan’s make-up, or with the truth that there’s no singing and no Mushu, or with the surroundings. This can be a film. It may solely keep near the unique work, however it’s going to by no means be the unique work.”

Fortunately for Disney, many Chinese language viewers are nonetheless very eager to observe the Mulan premiere regardless of – or maybe because of – the continued controversies. The casting of Liu Fei as Mulan has additionally been met with reward and pleasure.

Common Weibo regulation blogger Kevin (@Kevin在纽约) writes: “One the primary day that the trailer for Disney’s live-action “Mulan” was launched, it had 175.1 million international views, making it the quantity two Disney adaption. The primary is The Lion King which had 224.6 international views [on its first day]. Though the People made Mulan stay in a tulou, and made her converse English with a Chinese language accent, all of it gained’t forestall Hua Mulan from having nice success in 2020.”

Different netizens additionally agree, and they don’t appear to thoughts sharing ‘their’ Mulan with the remainder of the world.

“Some individuals are being too obstinate,” one feminine Weibo consumer writes in response to all of the criticism: “That is the American Disney firm, and all princesses converse English first. Jasmine in Aladdin additionally didn’t converse Arabic. I collect that within the movie there will certainly be some subjective concepts or errors based mostly on Western conceptions of China. As Chinese language, we’d discover them misrepresentative or laughable. However from the trailer, I can already see that [this film] matches our esthetics and creativeness. Most significantly, this movie expresses the power and great thing about Chinese language ladies, and of girls typically – that’s what issues.”

Discussions on Disney’s Mulan will definitely proceed within the time to return. The film is scheduled to be launched in theatres on March 27 of 2020.

Too Chinese language? Too American? Too Disneyfied? Too patriotic? Disney’s Mulan won’t please all viewers. Fortuitously, there are and might be dozens of different Mulan variations giving us totally different views. However who’s the ‘actual’ Mulan? We’ll in all probability by no means know.

By Manya Koetse

Comply with @whatsonweibo

(Harris 2005, 50).

Dong, Lan. 2010. Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the USA. Bibliovault OAI Repository, the College of Chicago Press.

Edwards, Louise. 2016. “The Archetypal Lady Warrior, Hua Mulan: Militarising Filial Piety.” In: Ladies Warriors and Wartime Spies of China, pp. 17-39.
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Harris, David. 2005. Key Ideas in Leisure Research. SAGE Key Ideas. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Koetse, Manya. 2010. “The Imagined Area of Chinatown: An Amsterdam Case Research.” Leiden College, []

Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt I. Idema (eds). 2010. Mulan: 5 Variations of a Basic Chinese language Legend with Associated Texts.” Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Firm.

Li, Jing. 2018. “Retelling the Story of a Lady Warrior in Hua Mulan (花木兰, 2009): Constructed Chineseness and the Feminine Voice.” Marvels & Tales 32 (2): 362-387.

Younger, Jingan. 2019. “The Mulan trailer is a dismal signal Disney is bowing to China’s nationalistic agenda.” The Guardian, July eight [July 12, 2019].

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