Mulan is the heroine of the Ballad of Mulan, an ancient Chinese poem first recorded in the 6th century CE. Though this text is lost, it is mentioned as the source in a 12th century text including the poem. Mulan dresses as a man to take her aged father's place in the army and distinguishes herself on the battlefield. Her story was also the subject of a 1998 Disney film.
The original story of Mulan, as a poem intended to be sung, does not offer much in the way of historical details. The story is simple. Mulan enlists in the army after seeing her father's name on the registers, since there are no men of an appropriate age to fight in her family. After Mulan becomes a celebrated warrior and her term of service ends, the Emperor offers her a government position, but she declines, asking instead for a camel to help her on the trip home. Later, her battle colleagues visit her home and discover her true gender. The final image of the poem is a male and a female hare running side by side, accompanied by the observation that they are impossible to tell apart.
Chinese histories written later in the medieval period discuss the historical character of Mulan, but details are disparate. An early source places Mulan in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), while another places her at the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-619). Her surname, not mentioned in the poem, is alternately given as Zhu, Wei, and Hua. Hua Mulan, the name used in the 16th century scholar Xu Wei's play inspired by the story, is the best known variant. The Disney version uses Fa, the Cantonese pronunciation of the same character that represents Hua in Mandarin.
The story of Mulan has captured the imagination of many over the years and has become the subject of plays and books both inside and outside China. She is a popular symbol of the strong, resourceful woman. The Chinese mascot for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup is based on Mulan, and a crater on the planet Venus is named after her.