Throwing this out here again: I've been thinking of switching to Disqus for comments. If you could take like 1.4 minutes to fill in a 3-question survey, that would be awesome. Thanks guys!!Chinese culture post on the original Mulan.
Plus read a translation of the original Mulan now!
Let me just say this: if Disney tries to cast someone ridiculously off the mark as Mulan, I can only conclude they have been hijacked. Dammit, Hydra.
But does she absolutely, definitely have to be Chinese?
I really appreciate the amount of thought and effort people are putting into this petition. To whitewash, or wash in any colour you like from black to purple, an integral part of Chinese tradition would be horrible.
But here are two requirements that I've seen online and found dubious:
- cannot be Japanese, Korean, Vietnam, or anywhere from Asia BUT China
- cannot be half-Chinese, half-something else; must look Chinese
The Mulan actress must not just be Asian, but Chinese.
First, a dash of humour. So what about Taiwan? What about Hong Kong and Macau? I can tell the difference between a mainlander and a HKer about 80% of the time. My mum has a better rate. Are we Chinese? Would it be okay if the actress was Taiwanese? Whoops, what if they come from the Spratlys or Diaoyu Islands or one of the many islands China thinks belongs to them?
Okay, down to business. Let's be honest: a country that calls itself "middle kingdom" is arrogant, but in most of history, we had good reason to be arrogant. China had at least Korea under our jurisdiction at some point, and in the prosperous dynasties many other Asian countries gave tribute to China.
ETA: Christina @ fairy skeletons suggested that Korea wasn't technically under Chinese jurisdiction, and the Economist has a few words to say about this. It's actually quite complicated and I'm not sure either way, but apologies for the confusion! Let us just say -- we were politically and economically close, yes?
Japanese and Korean cultures integrate parts of Chinese culture. I can scrape by in Tokyo piecing together what Chinese roots remain in Japanese. Li Bai, one of the most prolific "Chinese poets", may have come from Korea or somewhere in northwest China closer to Tibet. Why is it that this pesky country border defines that you must be Chinese?
And if the border does mean anything, I bring us back to the humour part: what about all the places China thinks it owns? Do those count?
The Mulan actress must not be only half-Chinese and must look Chinese.
To be fair, I think the original posters meant "don't find someone half-Caucasian and looks Caucasian". But here's a fun trick.
note: images link back to their sources. Not mine.
These are all Chinese people. I kid you not. The type of Chinese person you see most is Han Chinese, and we dominate the country. However, there are also 55 ethnicities living in China and pretty much assumed to be part of Chinese culture. We all have fabulous fashion and cuisine.
To ask for someone who looks Chinese is to ask for someone who looks American. Should an American be white and blond and tall, or an African American, or an eagle? And in the case of China, because we have an insanely long history of wars and whatnot, there has definitely been some mixing in terms of ethnicity, so the lines aren't quite that clear. I've heard people exploit this grey area for the Chinese equivalent of affirmative action in university applications.
And to judge someone's ethnicity by how they look? Let's just be blunt. That's no better than judging someone by their ethnicity outright.
Oh, and just some food for thought. Mulan is a folktale that originated during the Northern Wei Dynasty. During this time, the country was a mess and refugees were fleeing left and right and north and south. It's also, according to my history textbook, a time when people of different ethnicities started integrating to some extent within China. It's entirely possible that Mulan wasn't even Han Chinese. She was definitely fighting for the foreign 可汗, a title for Mongolian kings.
My arguments basically boil down to this one point:
Who is Chinese? How do we define China?
This isn't something I can cover in one blog post, or even in a blog series. It's a question that's tangling Hong Kong even now as we struggle to reconcile our differences with Beijing. But the presence of this question, I think, undercuts the absolute nature of saying "The actress for Mulan must be Chinese".
All I really need Disney to do, in terms of casting, is to convince me in the theatre that this is a Chinese folktale.
- Do NOT turn Mulan into some Western altar of rebellion and individualism, i.e.:
- Please get rid of the forced-into-marriage subplot? It's not unrealistic, but it overcomplicates Mulan's motivations. Doesn't preclude romance.
- Why Mulan left = she loves her family. Arya Starks unnecessary.
- Let's say this again: Mulan does not need to rebel against "convention". The original ballad starts with her weaving, for goodness' sake.
- Acknowledge core values in Chinese culture, a.k.a Confucian values:
- Courtesy. Greetings, precedence, tea, everything, for worldbuilding.
- Filial piety, i.e. respect and love for parents. Expectation to care for them in their old age.
- Patriotism patriotism patriotism. We are worse than America and their eagles.
- Integrity. Mulan is lying via proxy to the emperor and to everyone else. A huge no-no in Confucian values. Character motivations, please.
- Please include older sister present in original, because sisterhood.
- Please make the scenery and the fashion look like they're Chinese. Do your research, Disney.
- Those pets were cute. But they do not belong in a live-action film.
- Exception will be made for bunnies.
Your thoughts on the live-action Mulan? Must we have a Chinese actress?
And I realise that most of you don't speak Chinese and therefore draw your conclusions based on adaptations. Which, I realise, isn't your fault because there are very few translations of the original Mulan.
I've translated Mulan. Line for line. Iambic tetrameter. Direct Chinese-to-English comparison. And you can download it right away when you join my takeout insiders' circle.
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