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From the iconic and lovable dragon, Mushu, to the memorable song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, Mulan has made its mark as a staple of Disney animation since its release in 1998. The Ballad of Mulan originated during the Northern Wei Dynasty (around 400 A.D.). While originally passed down as oral tradition, the story was finally written down during the era of the Tang Dynasty. However, how accurate is the Disney adaptation from the actual folk heroine in Chinese legend? Let’s break it down!

Part I: Breaking Down History

Mulan did dress as a male soldier in place of her old father. However, she also did so because she had a younger brother who was too young for battle.

The only historical text that mentioned Mulan’s enemy is a memorial erected during the Song dynasty. According to the inscription on the memorial, Mulan fought against the Xiongnu.

Most modern historians believe that Mulan’s story is set during the era of Northern Wei, most likely under the reign of Emperor Taiwu who engaged in a twelve-year war against the Rouran khan between 429 and 441 AD.

Most retellings of Mulan indicate she was a teenager when she went to war. However, she would have been much older when she returned home (according to the Ballad, she had served for 12 years during the war).

While Mulan had a love interest in later iterations of her story, the original Ballad had no mention of a romantic partner.

Mulan did not have a dragon sidekick named Mushu. However, in a later iteration of her story, she had a cousin named “Mushu” who had avoided the draft by dressing up as a woman.  

While in the movie, Mulan’s secret was discovered when she was injured in battle. The Ballad stated that after she returned from war, she returned home and dressed in her old clothing, revealing her identity to them.  They were rather shocked about it considering they had been traveling with her for 12 years.

Part II: Recreating History – Chinese Congee (jūk) [Serves 4 individuals]

Now that we broke down the historical accuracy of Mulan, why don’t we recreate a bit of history! Congee, or  jūk (which kinda sounds like “jook”), is a staple dish in China with its origin reaching back as far as the Zhou Dynasty  (approximately 1000 B.C.). Normally served as a plain rice porridge of varying consistencies, a savory version of the dish can be made with salt, ginger, and various meats. Here is a basic recipe to get you started:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup White Rice

  • ¾ lbs. Chicken (cut into small, bite-sized pieces)

  • 8 cups Water

  • 14 g. Ginger (cut into thin strips)

  • 1 tsp. Salt

  • Green Onion (cut into small pieces, to taste)

  • Cilantro or Chinese Parsley (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Wash the rice (approximately 3 washes is good).
  2. Boil the water and add the rice.
  3. Stir until it starts to boil, but stop stirring once the water boils again to prevent the rice from burning.
  4. Cover the pot and cook at medium heat for 25 minutes.
  5. Whisk the rice rapidly for another 3 minutes until the rice is the consistency of porridge.
  6. Add the chicken and stir for 2 minutes to cook it in the congee.
  7. Add the salt and ginger and stir for 30 seconds.
  8. Serve and add cilantro and green onions as a garnish.
  9. Enjoy!

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