Essays

Mulan: More Hun than Han

James Millward reads the original Mulan poem that inspired Disney’s films

Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one's country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home – a war-weary expression of truth to power.

Perhaps because of the barriers to actually seeing the new Mulan remake (thanks to the pandemic and Disney's steep charge of $30 plus a subscription fee to its streaming service), commentary about the new film has been trickling out over a few weeks. The most recent controversy is over the credits: Disney thanks security and political authorities in Turfan (Turpan), Xinjiang, for facilitating their filming in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Disney filmed part of Mulan amidst Turfan's desert scenery well after it was clear that just around the corner were multiple concentration camps inflicting "transformation through education" upon Uyghurs and other Xinjiang indigenous peoples. Hundreds of such camps have been built across the Uyghur region starting in 2017 and were well-reported by the time Disney started filming in 2018.