First of all, I would like to apologize for being so late. The due date for submissions to this feature was February 19, 2015, but I had intended to finish the feature on February 20th because I expected to be busy with Chinese New Year on the day that it occurred. Well, I was busy, but then I wanted to finish the general guide for the site, which including everything from rules to a detailed list of approved heroines with links to resources and names of all films to my editing of its journal skin so that it didn't look all weird. I wanted to finish it before making this feature because then I could provide a link for everything for last minute entries. So if you submitted Mulan artwork before today but after the new year, you still had a chance to be a part of this.Also, I want to note that this wasn't intended as a contest, so to those who thought they might get a large prize, I'm sorry didn't make that clear. However, since some people truly expected to receive some kind of award or prize, I will give 1 deviantART point to each artist I feature here and 5 deviantART points to the person whose Mulan work will be this feature's spotlight.As promised, I will talk all about Chinese New Year, my personal experiences in this year's festivities, some information about Chinese culture, things that were very true to Chinese and historical culture in Mulan and things that I felt were not, and more fun facts. I'm mixing the pictures with the text, so feel free to scroll down and look at everything even if you don't have time to read.
The plainest, simplest overview of China and its history is nearly impossible. China is one of the oldest civilizations in the entire world with over six thousand years of history, predating even ancient Egypt. Ironically, despite being almost one hundred percent Han Chinese in descent, I would have to say I know much, much more about ancient Egypt than China. Thus, I am not actually the best person to ask about Chinese history. However, this isn't about me, nor Egypt, so I will try to do this best with what I know.
The word for "China" in Chinese language is 中国 in simplified Chinese and "Zhong guo) in Anglicized pinyin (but it sounds more like 'ZONG--gwah' when pronounced by English speakers). Literally translated, it means "Middle Kingdom." That's because Chinese people believed that they were the center of the world and the most important nation. It wasn't always united as one enormous country, but once the first Emperor Shihuangdi conquered all the parts of China, it became much more cohesive. If you don't know who Shihuangdi is, he is Jet Li in that really terrible movie The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
. He united the country in many ways --- though some of the methods involved a lot of people dying. In order to make sure everyone spoke the same language, he took all the scholars who did not speak what is today Mandarin Chinese, and he burned their books. Then he killed all of them (except for the Mandarin speakers). And that is why most Chinese people speak some form of Mandarin (with the except in the Canton province, with its most notable city being Hong Kong).
Sadly, I know very little of what happened between thousands of year ago and the onset of the Opium War. So I'm just going to talk briefly about that time period, and then I'm going to fast forward to talking about the 1800's to now.
One of the most famous events in Chinese history is the making of the Great Wall of China. It is the largest man-made structure on the entire Earth, and it is the only one that is humongous enough to be seen in space. Although it is incredibly long, stretching through thousands of miles, it is not very high. It wouldn't be very hard for a person to climb it, even if they only used methods and tools from ancient times. However, that was not the point of the wall. It was made to keep out invaders and foreign influence, and it didn't have to be very high because armies of people traveled on horseback. As long as your average horse couldn't jump over it, its height was fine. Another thing that most people don't know is that an extravagant number of people died making it. Their deaths are not really so surprising when you think about how much back-breaking work it would take for people with no modern tools to make it.
The Great Wall is just one of many Chinese innovations. Thousands of years before the Western study of seismology, China had its own device that warned about earthquakes. It was made of metal and consisted of four sculpted dragons facing north, south, east, and west. When an earthquake occurred, a metal ball would roll out of a dragon's mouth depending on the direction of the quake.
Chinese food is probably the most popular ethnicity of food in the entire world. China was the first country to have restaurants, much earlier than the Egyptians or the Roman empire. In addition, without China, there would be no pasta. The explorer Marco Polo made note of the recipe of making noodles and brought it back to Italy where its culinary evolved into all sorts of pasta.
Speaking of explorers, very few people know that China was also a country involved in exploration. At one point, a ship journeyed to Africa, and they brought back a giraffe. Unlike their European counterparts, the Chinese did not exploit or kill or attempt to conquer the people whom they met in Africa but used it as a cultural exchange. However, don't think us Chinese people are so innocent either. China also invaded Vietnam many times and invented water torture where you stand with a giant wooden board attached to your back in cold water until you die of the cold, starvation, disease, or collapse from the weight of the board. And, in times of battle, the Chinese invented the crossbow, which devastated all opponents due to its ability to shoot tons of arrows at once with deadly accuracy. Traditionally, Chinese people fought with a mixture of martial arts, advanced weapons, and often on horseback. However, the great innovations (including military weaponry) of China faced a decline through centuries as the popularity of isolationism grew.
The Opium Wars were not caused by a Chinese desire to have or sell more opium. In fact, it was the opposite. The British made astronomical profits off of the sale of opium to Chinese addicts. The drug became such a social menace that it was affecting the entire economy and well-being of the Chinese people. Of course, the British didn't care that they were ruining another country. They saw the Chinese as being inferior, and it would have been really hard to reject such a ludicrous amount of money. In addition, most Chinese people at the time hated the British because they were foreigners, so they were not willing to solve the issue by diplomacy (which wouldn't have worked anyway). Being that the British ruled almost the entire planet, their military was by far the best in the entire world. However, Chinese people at time were still fighting using only hand-to-hand martial arts and outdated weapons. Even though China invented gunpowder, they hadn't invented the gun. Thus, China lost to British imperialism.
After the end of the last emperor of China, new political parties began to appear. The first ruling party was democratic and led by Chiang Kai-shek. Unfortunately, his government was very weak, so Mao Zedong and his Communists took over China. They claimed to be the "people's party," but high ranking members of the party lived in luxury despite condemning and killing millions of wealthy Chinese people and causing millions more to suffer. They encouraged young people to live by the code of the Red book, and gangs of youth went around harassing anyone they felt like and creating violent chaos wherever they went. Mao tried to take control of Tibetan Buddhism and caused the Dalai Lama to flee his native land, and he lives in exile to this very day. In addition, the economy took a nose-dive. Because Maoist communism required that everyone be paid equally without any compensation for extra effort, people became lazy and had no incentive to work hard. The lack of sufficient labor caused a plummet in production in all industries.
After the death of Mao Zedong, the Chinese people secretly feared a new dictator would arise from the ashes of their so-called "hero." They were wrong. Deng Xiao Ping was the new ruler of the Chinese government, and his policies helped China crawl back from its decline. He reformed the economy by adding incentive to work. He denounced the philosophy behind the Red book, so young people no longer roamed across China like packs of hyenas. Although China was still a third world country without the freedom of the press and without basic human rights, it was still better than Mao. Deng Xiao Ping died an old man, but his legacy lived on. Now China is one of the richest countries in the world, even outranking the United States.
ABOUT CHINESE NEW YEAR
Recently, activists have been pushing to change the name (or at least the usage of the name) of Chinese New Year. They call it "Pan Asian Lunar New Year." Personally, I just call it Chinese New Year. It's simpler, and I guess I am a bit biased because I'm Chinese in descent. In addition, the phrase "Pan Asian" doesn't really fit the description of the geographical element of the new year. It is true that the lunar new year is celebrated in different countries such as Japan, Vietnam (where the new year is called Tet), Korea, and other Asian countries. However, not all countries celebrate this lunar new year. Most Muslim countries celebrate Islamic New Year, which is also based on a lunar calendar but not the same one as Chinese New Year. Israeli Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah, another lunar new year that is celebrated in September or October. So I guess what I would think would be the best name for Chinese New Year if you really felt you had to change it would be "Multinational Asian Lunar New Year" or "Multicultural Asian Lunar New Year." It still wouldn't work because the vast majority of the other countries' calendars are also lunar-based. According to Wikipedia, the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, but I'm not entirely sure if that is true considering the fact that I've never heard that before and also Wikipedia's reputation for being occasionally inaccurate.
So that's why I call it Chinese New Year. Easy enough. Now for more about the holiday.
Chinese New Year is a huge celebration. It has been celebrated for thousands of years, much longer than the Gregorian calendar that Westerners use today. It is the biggest and most important Chinese holiday as well as having very complicated superstitions and celebrations. Even though I will say a lot about it, it is nowhere close to being full account of the holiday, but I will try to provide a general idea about it.
This year, which began on New Year's Day (February 19th), is the Year of the Goat (or sheep). The Goat is one of the twelve animal signs in Chinese astrology. No description of Chinese New Year would be complete without the folktale of how the animals became representative of the Chinese zodiac.
Once upon a time, the Jade Emperor planned a meeting with all the animals, and the first twelve would have a year named after them according to the order of arrival to the meeting. At this time, the Cat and the Rat were friends, but unfortunately, they were very bad at swimming. The location of the meeting was across a river, and two ambitious animals were worried that they would be far too late or not make it to the meeting at all. However, their mutual friend the Ox was a wonderful swimmer. He offered to carry them on his back as he swam toward the shore. As the Cat and the Rat were nearing the shore upon the Ox's back, the Rat suddenly pushed the Cat into the water. Thus, the rat was the first animal to arrive and became the first animal in the zodiac. As all the animals came in various order (including the kind-hearted Ox), the twelve spots were soon taken. However, the Cat took a long time to get out of the water and dry off. By the time he came to the shore, it was already too late. He was the thirteenth arrival, and there was only room for twelve. And that is how the Rat became the first sign in the zodiac and why cats hate rats.
In addition to this story, there are many superstitions involved with Chinese New Year. You are not supposed to clean or take a shower during New Year's day because it is bad luck. But the biggest (and most fun) piece of superstition is the belief that if you burn an item something made of paper, it will become real in heaven where your ancestors will receive it. So if you burn fake paper money, it will become real money in the afterlife for your ancestors. If you burn a paper dress, a paper apple, a paper panda, or pretty much anything that can be made out of paper, it will become real for your ancestors. People really go all out for these things. They make paper iPhones, BMW's, laptops, HDTV's, and anything your heart desires. You'd better hope your grandchildren are all pyromaniac origami experts.
The main ritual of Chinese New Year is to cook a lavish dinner for your ancestors. The ancestors don't actually literally appear in front of people and eat in front of you, but they savor the meal and eat it in a metaphysical way and let you eat it after they're done. But before anyone eats (including ancestors), younger people pray to their living male elder family member and all ancestors. You kneel on a pillow, clasp your hands palm-to-palm, sway them up and down, and pray to your eldest male family member right in front of him. If you don't have a male older than you in your immediate family, you pray to your closest eldest living female family member. If you don't have any family older than you (I think siblings don't count), then you get your younger household members to pray to you.
As you pray to the ancestors, the elder family member asks for them to bless you, protect you, and bring prosperity for the new year. Then your elder family member gives you money in a red envelope, and everyone eats dinner.
My Experience This Year
This year, my family celebrated on Chinese New Year's Eve. My mother made a big dinner for everyone. She made sure to include vegetarian dishes because my dad likes to be a vegetarian just for Chinese New Year's day (we kept vegetarian leftovers so that he'd have something to eat the next day). I live with my mom and my dad, so I prayed to my dad. My grandfather died in January, so my father asked him to bring luck for me as I prayed. My sister wasn't able to celebrate with us (probably busy with work), so my parents had me pray for her. And then my mom started getting a bit too much into it and had my uncle's chihuahua Bodhi pray (it was pretty funny, I have to admit). Then my father gave me money in a red envelope, and we began eating.
My mom cooked fish and also served duck. I don't like cooked fish (only sushi), so I ate mostly duck with white rice. I eat rice almost every day, which the exception usually being noodles on the weekends. The candles were lit, and there were bowls filled with hard candy and small oranges. I don't remember what we talked about. For some reason, Chinese New Year dinner conversation is always bit awkward for me. I have no idea why. But I had fun, and so did my parents. (Bodhi the chihuahua didn't any table scraps, so she wasn't quite so happy).
Mulan and Mulan II: Truth and Fiction
Even though I'm no expert, I could probably point out at least five dozen cultural misconceptions in both movies. I'm sad to say that there are far more historical and cultural errors in Mulan
and Mulan II
than reality. It's very obvious to me that Disney either did almost no research on China for this film or they just thought want trying to market to an American audience. I have heard people say things like "Oh, well, they were busy making other movies," but they spent an insane amount of cultural research for Brave
, both European based movies. I can't include everything, so I will include twelve accurate details and twelve inaccurate details from both movies. (I chose 12 because of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. No particular order, though).
12 Accurate Details
1. Arranged marriage was very common, and they did involve a matchmaker.
In fact, almost all Chinese marriages were arranged marriages before the 20th century . . . if not all of them. Like the cantankerous matchmaker in the first movie, matchmakers put couples together.
2. Mulan was based on an actual Chinese poem.
Disney didn't make up the story. There is a Chinese poem about a girl named Mulan who takes her father's place by posing as a male soldier.3. Government officials like the hostile scholar who hates Mulan were very common.
Confucianism preached that the best path in the life is to become a government official. In order to become one, young scholars had to study very hard and pass an intense exam in order to become an official. If a student failed the exam, they could never be an official. They did not allow make-up exams or second tries. For men who did not pass the test, it was the worst shame and also denied them of any hope to have a career. Many failing scholars committed suicide.
The government official in Mulan does not reflect a Confucian interpretation. He is depicted as weak, whiny, immature, egotistical, vain, and somewhat misanthropic. Most of these traits reflect a negative view of effeminacy in men, a homophobic and transphobic undertone. Taoists would show more approval of the unflattering portrayal of the government official because Taoism encouraged people to run away and become hermits. It preached a natural way of life rather than a bureaucratic one.4. White colored face make-up was the standard for beauty.
Mulan's make-up was fairly accurate. Before the early 20th century, Chinese aesthetics considered pale skin as a sign of attractiveness. There are still many parts of Asia that still believe in the beauty of pale skin. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking reflects racism in that in many regions in the world believe people with darker skin are seen as unattractive.5. Fa Mulan is a real Chinese name.
In Chinese culture, your first name is your surname. For example, if your name is Ming Chang Wong in English, then in Chinese it would be Wong Ming Chang. "Fa" can mean a lot of things depending on the tone, but "Mu Lan" means "Magnolia."6. China was once invaded by the Huns.
However, unlike in the movie, the Huns were successful. They reigned for my many years before they were eventually taken over by another dynasty.7. It was possible for a woman in her early twenties to have an arranged marriage with a 13-year-old boy at that time in China.
Let me emphasize that China does NOT have arranged marriages anymore, especially not between preteens and adults. In the sequel Mulan II
, Mulan offers to marry a thirteen-year-old prince in order to prevent war. Back then, it was perfectly normal for a boy to get engaged at age 13. People would have found it weird that Mulan was in her early twenties and not married yet.8. Mulan's male persona name Ping is a real Chinese name. It means either "apple" or "duckweed."
Ping is actually my Chinese middle name as well. All the females of my generation have Ping as their middle name and their own unique first name. For example, my Chinese name is Xin Ping ("New Duckweed"), my sister's name is Mei Ping ("Western Duckweed"), and one of my cousins is named Li Ping ("Plum Duckweed").
9. The Chinese believe in the idea of Yin and Yang, which is a very influential theme in Mulan II.
Yin represents femininity, subtlety, cunning, passivity, and other similar traits. Yang represents masculinity, forwardness, boldness, aggressiveness, and other characteristics. It is unusual for Yin to represent Shang and Yang to represent Mulan because Yin is female and Yang is male.10. Emperors had concubines.
In the scene where Mulan's army buddies help out, they dress up as concubines to distract the guards. Every emperor had many concubines. The tradition was usually that when the emperor died, the concubines were buried with him.11. Chinese people have been using chopsticks to eat their food for thousands of years.
Mulan and other people in the movies use chopsticks. This is very accurate because chopsticks were invented more than a thousand years before Europeans invented the fork and knife. Chinese people can eat anything solid with chopsticks because all Chinese food is already cut up into little pieces, so there is no need for a knife.12. Pandas used to be a common animal.
Mushu pretends to be a messenger riding a black horse, which is really a panda. There used to be a time when pandas were much more common in certain parts of China. Now the only wild pandas in the world live in one of the southern China provinces.
12 Cultural Inaccuracies1. Mulan chooses "Ping" as the name of her male persona. In Chinese culture, all first names have two parts.
"Mulan" would really have been "Mu Lan." Her full name would have been "Fa Mu Lan." If she choose a name like "Ping," her male persona's full name would have been something like "Fa Xin Ping," and people would call her "Xin Ping" instead of just "Ping." That's why Shang Yu is not just named "Shang."
2. The Huns would NOT have had dark complexions and appear as some kind of terrifying non-existent ethnic group.
Disney has a reputation for making villains look like negative ethnic stereotypes. The Huns were from Mongolia, which is in the north. Mulan and her relatives probably lived in the southern part of China because that's the only place where pandas would be that common. Ironically, the Huns would have had a fair complexion, and Mu Lan would probably be the one with the darker complexion. This is not the first time Disney tried to enforce stereotypes. In the Beauty and the Beast,
the man who owns the mental asylum stereotypically Jewish features, which is probably because Walt Disney was notorious for his hateful anti-Semitic views (he wasn't alive when Beauty and the Beast
was made, but apparently his bigotry lived on). In Aladdin
and its sequels, all the "good" characters like Jasmine, Aladdin, and the Sultan had very fair skin and Caucasian features while all the "bad" characters like Jafar, Abizmal, and Razul were ugly interpretations of Middle Eastern stereotypes. Even the lions in The Lion King
and The Lion King II
were easily distinguished as good or bad depending on the color of their fur and manes.
In my opinion, the racist depictions in Disney movies explains why movies with Caucasian female protagonists are always the most popular. Disney has been subtly promoting a Western ideal of beauty where fair hair and light skin are equivalent beauty and virtue. Elsa is arguably the most popular Disney heroine of all time, and she is also the most Caucasian looking with her icy pale skin, white hair, and enormous blue eyes. Movies with minority female protagonists like Pocahontas
, The Princess and the Frog
, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire
have never been able to compete the commercial success of film icons like Frozen
, Beauty and the Beast
, The Little Mermaid
, and Brave,
which all have Caucasian female protagonists.3. Mulan's dad and the Emperor would never hug her in any circumstances.
In traditional Chinese culture, parents only hug little kids. A man who hugs a full grown woman would have been seen as creepy.4. Chinese people aren't really all obsessed with "honor." It's really more about reputation.
My parents have never said anything about honor to me in my entire life. However, they are very concerned about appearances and try to make it so all the relatives and neighbors think well of them. They don't actually have to follow a code of chivalry and don't get involved with other people's problems outside the family even if it would be considered noble or honorable. Family is most important, and everything bad has to be swept under the rug.5. Mulan would have a nose.
I'm sorry, but people have noses, not little dots.6. In traditional Chinese culture, the dog is the most lowly animal. Never call a Chinese person a dog unless you want them to hate you. And pigs are lucky animals!
It used to be that stray dogs roamed all over China. They didn't have dogcatchers, so the dogs would form into gangs and chase people around. There was no way that Mulan would be so affectionate to a pet dog and call him "Little Brother" (Di Di
) if she were real. (Maybe she would have a pet pig?). But don't call anyone a pig either . . . times have changed.7. Mulan wouldn't have to cut her hair to look like a man.
Men had long hair, and it was usually arranged in an ornate way that would distinguish it from a female's hairstyle.
8. Mulan would never have to feed chickens.
In the beginning of the story, Mulan tries to avoid a chore in which she feeds chickens. The Fa family seems wealthy, so they would never have to take care of the animals. They probably would have servants or buy their meat at a marketplace.9. In traditional Chinese culture, Mulan's parents probably wouldn't treat her well because she was a female only child who was both unmarried and very old for a single woman.
Mulan would probably have siblings. Daughters were considered inferior and cost extra money because they would have to pay a large dowry for her to go to another family after she eventually got married. Once a woman got married, she was the propert of her husband and his relatives.
This meant that the girl an extra mouth to feed as she grew up who wouldn't earn back any money for the family later in life. Families favored male children, and they would often mistreat daughters out of resentment. Sometimes they would have a girl get married as a child, and the husband's family would use her as a servant until she was old enough to bear children.
It would be likely that Mulan would have siblings because they would be trying to give birth to a son. In the 20th century, Chinese people were introduced to abortion and ultrasounds. Many women aborted females in the womb out of shame. However, this practice led to men far outnumbering women in China, which exists to this day. That is why they don't do that anymore; it is much more difficult for men in China to find a date.10. A doctor would never prescribe "one cup of tea" a day because most Chinese people drank tea every day. A doctor would prescribe traditional Chinese medicine or acupuncture.
In the beginning of the movie, Mulan pours tea for her a dad and reminds him that the doctor wants him to drink one cup every day. That would be like asking him to breathe air every day. Chinese people drink a lot of tea! (I actually don't like tea, and my family thinks I'm weird because I don't.)11. The princesses in Mulan II who were sent to be married to a foreign prince would probably end up being his first, second, and third wives. Mulan might have been forced to be the fourth wife or a concubine.
Chinese people used to practice polygamy until the 20th century. By having more wives, there was a bigger chance of having more sons. The first wife would be favored unless another wife had a son. Chinese people do NOT practice polygamy anymore, a change that may have been affected by the communist revolution and the one-child-per-family law.12. Tattoos were taboo in China.
At one point in the movie, one of Mulan's army buddies shows off a giant tattoo. In reality, tattoos would be seen with a lot of hatred and ostracism.