The Images of Hua Mulan in Chinese and American films


校园英语·下旬 2017年3期


【Abstract】Hua Mulan is a famous woman in ancient China. In modern society, multimedia technology is used to present a classic image of women in ancient China. Through the analysis towards the Disney animated film Mulan (1998) and the Chinese film Mulan (2009), the author gets the different opinions toward Chinese women in both modern China and the United States and analysis the culture behind the two films. As a new cultural carrier, the two films add the American values such as the idea of independence and the modern Chinese values when display the image of ancient Chinese female. So the interpretation towards the films can reveal the cultural difference between China and America. The cultural difference then in turn explains the importance of cultural diversity to promote the richness of film production.

【Key words】Hua Mulan; female image; cultural value; film

Hua Mulan is a heroine who took the place of her father and joined the army, described in a famous Chinese poem known as the Ballad of Mulan. The poem was written during the Northern Wei dynasty, first recorded in the Musical Records of Old and New from Southern and Northern Dynasties. In 1998, her story was adapted for an animated cartoon called Mulan in a Disney amusement center in the United States, to the acclaim of all over the world. Not come singly but in pairs, in 2009, Zhao Wei, a famous actress, acted as Mulan in a Chinese movie also called Mulan. Although both the films were adapted from the same prototype, there are differences: the Disney one was created from the point of view of the foreigners while the Chinese version was made by modern Chinese. Thus, the connotative meanings of the two films are different, which indicates the cultural difference between two nations.

1. Brief introduction of cultural communication

The transmission of preferences, beliefs, and norms of behavior, which is the result of social interactions across and within generations, is called cultural transmission. Language is an important carrier of culture. For example, literature is one of the forms. Now, with the trend of globalization, the cross culture communication is getting important. Globalization is a paradigm about sourcing talent from where it is best available, sourcing capital from where it is cheapest, producing where it is most cost-effective, and selling where the markets are not constrained by national boundaries. In addition, the rapid development of the technology provides more convenient ways of communication, which make the cross communication more frequently. And it was not enough to analyze a closed culture. The concern on cultural diversity makes people combine culture tighter with dissemination. Thus, the cross culture communication became a special research field. But different ways of thinking will give rise to various barriers of intercultural communication.

2. Character setting

2.1 The leading roles in two movies

In the Disney animated film Mulan (1998), the director made some changes according to his understanding: in the poem, Mulan was a virtuous girl, who can do weaving and took care of her father, while in the film, Mulan was like a Tomboy. She can fight like a boy, run like a boy, shoot like a boy and ride like a boy. According to the poem, she had an elder sister and a younger brother, who are of great significance to her. Actually, her replacement was not only for her father, but also for her little brother. In addition, according to the poem and later Chinese literature works about Mulan, she is a traditional eastern beauty. However, in the film, Mulan has small eyes, high cheekbones, thick lip and pointed chins, an eastern beauty in Americans eye.

The Film Mulan (2009) is another work that describes the female hero in Wei dynasty. Nevertheless, the film also has slight difference compared with the prototype. In the movie, Hua Mulan is a filial girl who can do weaving and be good at martial arts. As for her characteristics, she was sensible, though she had the ability to fight with others. In order to protect her beloved father, she chose to inebriate her father and left to the battle without telling him. At the barracks, she defended the weak against the injustice, which made her a good reputation. During the war, she used her talent, good reputation and martial skill to win many battles and to protect her homeland. She also showed the emotional part of her: she fell in love with a man in the military camp who had known her identity and then in order to save the mans life, she came to his rescue without noticing the safeties of other soldiers. Later, she was heart-broken because of the death of her beloved man. She was on the bottom of the charts and refused to fight against, for she had the hatred towards war. The movie shows that Mulan is a brave, smart hero with traits of common girls: sensibility and delicacy.

2.2 Supporting roles

In the Disney film, there are many important supporting roles: her father Hua Hu, khan, the ancestors, captain Li Shang, and Mushu. In The Ballad of Mulan, the father of Mulan is not an important role, but in the Disney film, he is not a conservative man in the federal society, but a father who behaves like American father. When Mulan failed in the blind date, he told her ‘when the late flower blooms, it will be the most beautiful of all; He was not like the father in the feudal society, but a friend of the daughter. Whats more, the ancestors in the films were not arbitrary tyranny of traditional image in Chinese feudal society. In the beginning of the film, all the ancestors, men or women, was having a meeting discussing Mulans safety, which did not have any dignified appearance, more like a democratic meeting in the western world. Although the king in the film had grave and dignified bearing, he can bow to Mulan to thank her for her work. In the film, the king has already known that Mulan was a girl. He still pointed her as the prime minister. He looks like a democratic president, not a king in the feudal society. Li Shang, another added role in the film, stands for a new man in the old time: after Mulan exposed her identity, the prime minister wanted to kill her, it is Li Shang who stopped him and saved Mulan. During the war, he paid his respect to Mulan. At every turning point, he listened to Mulans advice carefully, and he admired her toughness and braveness. The appearance of Li Sang helps to build the cuddly side of Mulan. Other role that attracts the audience is Mushu, a little dragon. However, different from the traditional acknowledge of dragon, solemn and magnificent, Mushu is very small, like a lizard, funny and weak.

The Film Mulan (2009), there is mainly two supporting roles: Xiao Hu, and Wen Tai. Xiao Hu is a good friend of Mulan, played by Fang Zuming who is just like her younger brother, a capricious, timid but loyal, kind boy. In the movie, he plays a significant role: encouraging Mulan to cheer up when she is depressed, sacrificing himself to protect Mulan when she is in danger. While, another man in the movie is Wen Tai, a prince who disguises himself as a soldier to better fight against the enemy, who takes care of Mulan at the military camp and save her life many times. He is also the man Mulan fall in love with, the man who always support Mulan and the man who hide himself in order to pick Mulan up. In the end of the film, they choose to sacrifice their love so that Wen Tai can get married with a princess from Rouran. These two supporting roles help to make Mulan a complex figure. Her fathers friend taught her with the Chinese Kongfu. During the war, Xiao Hu and other soldiers received Mulans protection, which indicates she is smart, patriotic and philanthropic. At the same time, the encouragement from Wen Tai and Xiao Hu shows that Mulan as a girl who is fear of death, who is worried about her father, good friends and her beloved man, who miss her home, her family when alone.

3. American Values in Film Mulan (1998)

3.1 American Heroism

In Disney's film, Mulan has been transformed into a typical American female. Her calling for freedom against bondage and her positive self-image and self-awareness have made of her a brave rebellious girl. Confronting the patriarchal society, Mulan is no longer the apotheosis image of women under traditional Chinese thoughts but a new female image that choose her life by herself. In the film Mulan (1998), when the soldiers encounter the Huns army in heavy snow, Mulan intelligently came up with a plan to kill all the Hun enemies. Finally, Mulan has also saved the king and the whole nation by sweeping out the Huns. American culture has endowed Mulan with strong individualist spirit and feminist thought. The implantation of Western concept of values has given Mulan more courage on life, making the image of Mulan closer to modem people with more realistic features. Americans have a strong self-centered concept: believing in heroism, American people pursue their own dreams and it has been a social consensus. Therefore, American films preach self-centered heroism. Heroes in American films usually act alone, which shows elements of strong heroism in American culture. The idea that individuals can change everything reflects American spirits of individual freedom, self-reliance and self-improvement. In American people's eyes, an individual can only obtain self-realization through self-struggle.

3.2 Impact of individualism on females

In America, the idea of equality is rooted in the deep hearts of Americans as Christian preaches the equal status of individual before God and the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal”. Hence, Americans seek for physical and spiritual freedom and equality for their whole life. In the movie, Mulan's female identity is revealed when she is hurt in the battlefield. After that, the male soldiers abandon her in the snow. However, Mulan does not give up and she finally wipes out the Huns and saves the emperor and country with female identity. By doing all the things, Mulan received acceptance from others as a woman not a man. The image of Disney's Mulan has showed one part of the American culture, the independent female. The feminist idea showed by Mulan has caused a positive impact on the Eastern culture. It prompts easterners to lean from the Western merits and seek rediscovery in their countries' traditions. Western feministic interpretation of Mulan allows us to reconsider the story of China's Mulan from a new perspective and enables us to see the female consciousness beyond the thoughts of filial piety and loyalty. Mulan in Disney has challenged the male world by calling for gender equality, which can match with the pursuit of equality and freedom in the western world.

3.3 The oriental female in the eye of Americans

Different with the traditional modest image of Mulan in ancient China, Disney Mulan is much ambitious and aggressive. Mulan appears in shorts and plays tricks with a pet dog at the beginning of the movie, which is against the requirement of womanly appearance. Her aggressiveness is presented vividly when she bravely steps forward and speak in defense of her father in the presence of the councilor and she also dares to stand up to oppose her father at the dinner table. Most importantly, Mulan is ambitious enough to long for achievement on the battlefield. In American mainstream culture, the deeply rooted Asian men stereotype is that they are weak and effeminate. Asian female are considered even more feminine or overly feminine because of the depiction of Asian men as feminine. At the same time, the understanding of Chinese generally as passive and subservient has led to this opinion of the hyper-feminine. But in film, Mulan (2009), the producer has changed the impression of Chinese female into a lovely, independent and patriotic girl.

4. Cultural heritage in Film Mulan (2009)

4.1 Female bounded by feudal ethics

Ancient China, a typical patriarchal society, which was dominated by man, was a cradle of sexual discrimination. For example, due to the existence of polygamy, a man can marry several wives in the same time while the woman was forbidden to do so. And females in ancient China tended to put themselves in a lower position automatically. Chinese women took the psychology of “losing myself” on this system and the serious constraint of the feudal ethics is the ideological root. They lived a meticulous live: In the movie, a jade pendant was lost, and all the soldiers must take off their clothes and receive the examination. Mulan showed her fear of being exposed to others. Although she can hide her voice, her hair, the thought of chastity in the Chinese culture cannot be moved.

4.2 Impact of collectivism on female

The traditional value of the Chinese collectivism was formed based on a collective orientation, which not only includes the relationship between the individuals and the family, but also between the individuals and the country, the nation, the society and other individuals. The Chinese pay more attention to the protection of the interest of the collective, the solidarity of the collective, and the achievement of the collective goal. While, in the film, Mulan (2009), the main part is how she coped with all the difficulties. Several plots are about her determination to defeat the invaders regardless of her own safety. It seems that she has already prepared to devote herself to the safeties of her family and her country. The ending of the film shows the collectivism existed along the Chinese history, which emphasizes that the benefit of the collective is superior to the benefit of individuals. Mulans giving up is a sign of the collectivism in China. The death of her beloved man helps her to make self-reflection, after the struggling in her deep heart; she decides to let down the personal feelings and takes her own responsibility of protecting her motherland. When the enemy caught, Xiao Hu and torturing him to lure her, she restrained her sorrow and stopped those who wanted to save Xiao Hu. After the general left them in the valley without any food and water, she said ‘The soldiers can betray me and the general can leave me, but I, will never betray my beloved China.

4.3 Confucianism

From the perspective of Confucianism, females were also treated unfairly. ‘The man goes out to work while the woman looks after the house. is the core idea about sex relationship in the Confucianism. Within Chinese culture, womens lives have traditionally been tightly regulated, structured, and controlled. A highly moralized code of conduct set forth through Confucian ideals is inextricably intertwined with Chinese culture. In the film, Mulan (2009), Mulans father refused her request to go to the battlefield, for he thought it was so ridiculous that a woman stayed at the military camp and fight like men. He chose to receive the command in spite of his poor body, but not let Mulan go instead of him. This reflects the Confucian thought that girl should stay at home waiting for her future husband. But in the beginning of the film, Mulan came to find her father who was with his friends and she played a trick to let him take the decoction instead of the alcohol. His friends made fun of him when seeing this and they said he was again at his daughters hands. It seemed that those men had got accustomed to her resourceful mind and her participation in their talks. Even one of her fathers friends was her tutor for the Chinese Kongfu. So the new understanding of modern Chinese towards the female status has brought into this film.

5. Conclusion

Although the two films tell the same story, which was described in a short ancient Chinese poem, the meaning and feeling expressed through the two films are totally different. The main reason for this is the difference between two cultures, often called the culture diversity. Both films have well showed the cultural diversity and integration between Chinese and American cultures. To some extent, the diversity and integration between the two types of culture has promoted the communication and exchange between the eastern world and western world. More important, different interpretations of the two cultures bring about lots of unexpected events and provide materials for art. It is the existence of different cultures that makes the world more interesting and more colorful. So keeping culture diversity is very important. Just like the collapse of the Babel, it is impossible to find a culture that suitable for people in the whole world.


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