18th century painting of Hua Mulan. The British Museum.

Hua Mulan is a legendary female Chinese warrior made famous by the “Ballad of Mulan.” We don’t know exactly when Mulan lived, as our main source is this Chinese ballad. However, we think she lived during the Northern Wei dynasty, which lasted from 386 – 534 C.E.

Mulan was trained in warrior skills, including sword fighting, archery, and kung fu. When officials arrived at her hometown with a list of men called up to fight in the army, Mulan’s father was on the list. He had been injured years before in a previous war and could no longer fight.

Mulan decided to take her father’s place. She disguised herself as a boy and arrived at the army camp, where she was accepted in place of her father. When he arrived at the camp, he was turned away. At this point he didn’t know his daughter was missing.

Mulan fought in the army for ten years. During this time she fell in love with an officer, Jin Yong. Eventually Mulan was promoted to general. She revealed herself to Jin Yong and the two became very close.

Other soldiers discovered her identity over the years. On the eve of a very difficult battle, Mulan went into battle dressed as a woman. Her soldiers were so inspired by her bravery and grace that they won the battle.

After many years of war, the Emperor wanted to honor Mulan, but she refused, and simply asked for a horse on which to travel home. When she returned home, Mulan found out her father had died. The ballad says she was full of grief and haunted by her years on the battlefield. Unable to continue, she ended her own life.

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