What do Mongolians Actually Think of Disney’s ‘Mulan’?

As 2019 creeps ever nearer, so, too, does Disney’s live-action Mulan release dateThe company has so far chosen only one cast member — Liu Yi Fei as the titular lead, Mulan — but more news is expected in the coming months.

Unlike the original 1998 release intended with American audiences in mind, the 2019 remake will do its best to appease both Western and Chinese viewers. This likely means that, in addition to having cast members speak both English and Mandarin proficiently, they’ll also change the story line to reflect more historical accuracy.

In Disney’s version, Mulan fights for China against the Huns, lead by their sharp, sinister-looking warrior general, Shan Yu; however, in “The Ballad of Mulan“, she pledges fealty to the Northern Wei, a Turco-Mongol people, during the Northern and Southern dynasties period (420 to 589).

via Wikimedia Commons / Ian Kiu (CC BY 3.0)

Because Western audiences generally lacked this historical context, many assumed the Huns to represent the Mongolians and Mulan’s people to represent Han Chinese, drawing from their limited understanding of Chinese history. The Huns, largely painted as cruel, bloodthirsty barbarians in Disney’s movie, were shown as the evil force that Mulan and her comrades had to defeat in the name of all that is good.

This sinister depiction is exactly what prompted one Quora user to ask how Mongolians felt about Mulan, to which many answered the query.

One anonymous user gave their input:

“What? As if the Mongols would be butthurt by a fictional character

“But there is one annoying historical inaccuracy.

via Wikimedia Commons / Khiruge (CC BY-SA 4.0)

“The story of Hua Mulan was set in the Southern and Northern Dynasties period. Mulan’s family was born in the North, and served the Northern Wei dynasty founded by the Tuoba clan of Xianbei, who were Turco-Mongol people. The Northern Wei had introduced a reform which led to the adoption of Han customs and the Chinese governing model. And yes, there were many Han citizens, but that didn’t change the fact that the imperial family was Xianbei, not ethnic Chinese.

via Wikimedia Commons / SY (CC BY-SA 4.0)

“After they destroyed the Chinese Jin dynasty and drove their population south, the Xianbei people founded their own state in the Uprising of the Five Barbarians, and eventually paved down the road for the founding of the Northern Wei dynasty where Mulan served.

“And please, the enemies that the Northern Wei fought against in the story of Mulan was not ‘the Mongols.’ It was a state called Rouran Khaganate established by proto-Mongols. Notice the prefix ‘proto’? That’s because the concept of a unified Mongolian identity did not come into being until Temujin united all the Mongol tribes.

“Back then, different peoples inhabited the Great Steppes and the Mongolian-Manchurian grassland.

“They were Turkic (not Turkish), Yeniseian, Mongolic (not Mongolian), Tungusic, and etc. Also, the Xiongnu was a multi-ethnic confederate of many different tribes of the North.”

Where the anonymous user provided a historical context, Quora user Togi Chinbat was able to provide a cultural one:

“Hahahaha, I was actually asked this question by one of my roommates when I was in the States. And I answered: ‘Oh it was a cool cartoon. Why do you ask?’

“A key piece of information is that up until that point, I never realized that the bad guys were supposed to be the Huns. Now this was very surprising to me, because:

  1. Most Mongolians do agree that the Huns were our ancestors. And we like it.
  2. You’d notice quickly from our rituals, and the general way people carry themselves around that Mongolians are, by and large, very proud people.
  3. Due to historical reasons, children grow up hearing ‘bad things’ about China and its people. Of course you know that children are very impressionable. I grew up that way, and was only able to change my thinking when I was on the outside looking in.

“When you couple these facts, it becomes very obvious that a Mongolian boy watching a cartoon about his own warrior ancestors getting beat by a Chinese girl should leave some mark in his memory. But no, it wasn’t there.

“My working theory as to why is that when it was shown on TV here, the translation was somehow wrong. I went around and asked my family, and a few friends about what they remember about Mulan. They all said things along the lines of: ‘A girl steals her father’s uniform. She defeats the enemies. Oh and there was a dragon.’

“Notice how they all just say enemies? Yep, they don’t realize the bad guys were the Huns either! Ha, so the answer to your question is that they all think it was a good cartoon because no one realizes it was their own great, great grandpa who was getting toyed around by a Chinese girl.”

Where some saw the positive, others, like Uuganbayar Baasanjaw, voiced a dissenting opinion:

“Generally, we don’t like it.

“Having our ancestors (as we like to be) getting crushed by a teenage girl sure doesn’t feel good.

“On the second thought, I made my peace with it long ago. It is a great movie (not the sequels, they suck ass). Mulan needed powerful villains and her home needed fierce threats that could utterly annihilate them so the hero female soldier will be most glorious in the end. Who can be that unstoppable force that could destroy the whole China? Only one answer, Huns.

“Also, the movie suggests that the Huns were powerful barbarians who were evil. That’s actually correct if you take Chinese perspective into account and the movie is set at ancient Chinese lands so it’s correct. Plus, northern nomads were never more civilised than southern farmers who live in a city.”

What do you think? Will Shan Yu and the Huns return for the live-action remake? Or will we see a different enemy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Featured Image via YouTube / (Left): Cartoon Movies | (Right): hv20canon

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