Walt Disney Studios

Was Mulan A Real Warrior? The Chinese Legend Behind The Movie Is Fascinating

The live-action Mulan film is officially available on Disney's streaming service Disney+ as of Sept. 4. Featuring intense fight sequences, this real-life remake of the 1998 film brings new energy to the classic story. While most Disney films are based off of fictional characters, history indicates Mulan could have been a real warrior, because it turns out, the legend behind the movie dates back centuries.

The story of Mulan can be tracked back to the Ballad of Mulan, a Chinese poem set in the Northern Wei dynasty sometime between 386 and 534 AD. It's an anonymous and undated work — so there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the poem — but historians have dated it to that period because that's around the time the Hun people would often invade northern parts of Han China. Records suggest the story began as an oral tradition, passed down for over 1,000 years and written down during the Tang dynasty (between 618 and 908 AD), and began circulating as a folk story.

This original version tells a simplified story of Mulan. In the poem, Mulan's father is called to battle, and she takes his place because there are no adult male children who could go in his stead. After 12 years of war, Mulan returns to her hometown and her comrades finally find out she is actually a woman. The Ballad concludes by asking, “When a pair of rabbits run side by side, who can distinguish male from female?”

Mulan was assumed to be a real historical event for hundreds of years. A memorial was dedicated to Mulan during the Yuan dynasty (between 1279 and 1368 AD), and it cited the Ballad of Mulan has a historical document. However, historical documents often offer contradictory details about her life, so the majority of modern historians have decided the authenticity of Mulan's story simply can't be verified.

Nonetheless, Mulan's story has remained relevant since its creation. In the 16th century, playwright Xu Wei wrote a play adapted from the original poem called "The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father’s Place.” Then in the 17th century, a book titled Romance of Sui and Tang by Chu Renhuo told another rendition of Mulan's story. Several film adaptations of the story were produced in the 1920s and 1930s, including Mulan Joins the Army, and the Disney cartoon feature film, which was released in 1998.

Now, the new live-action Disney remake is here. Originally scheduled to release in March, Mulan was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and instead was released on Sept. 4 on Disney+ for $29.99, on top of the $6.99 streaming platform subscription. Reportedly, Disney+ subscribers will be able to watch Mulan without the extra $29.99 fee if they wait a few months, but that is yet to be officially confirmed.