Mulan, Femininity, and Obligations of Filial Piety


Pictured above is an iron wrought painting of a Mulan as she begins to shed her feminine clothing, and dawning her father’s armor and going into the armed forces in her father and brother’s place. Within the painting we see Mulan seemingly gazing at herself in a hand mirror as she stands within a desolate room. In the forefront of the paining is a small stool with what looks like boots, male robes, a shawl, and armor. While behind her is a table mirror, a bow and arrow within their holster, and a small cabinet with what looks like her helmet on top.

Mulan’s story is one of a woman shedding her femininity, shedding her loosely fitting clothes, and her fragility, and disguising herself as a man by cross dressing in her father’s armor in order to take her father and her brother’s place in the army. Mulan’s story is a Confucian tale of a virtuous woman, as Mulan fulfilled her filial piety not only by venerating her father, but by making the ultimate sacrifice, and taking his place in the army.

However, Mulan’s story is very emblematic of the rigidity of gender roles and expectations within China. While it wasn’t unusual or unheard of for American women to disguise themselves as men in order to enlist and serve in the army during times of war, Mulan’s story is unique. Unlike the American women who cross dressed and served in the army for their own wants and reasons, Mulan did so because she had to in order to save her father and brother from possible death, and enact the ultimate form of filial piety. If Mulan had cut her hair, disguised herself as a man, and joined the army through her own volition, attitudes of her and towards her story would likely be very different.