Orientalism in Mulan

Everyone knows the critically acclaimed Disney film Mulan. It is highly applauded due to its female hero, which breaks the norm of a standard plot of a Disney film. Despite all of Mulan’s glory, it has tones of orientalism throughout the whole film. Mulan was created after a Chinese folk tale called Ballard of Mulan, however, its animation style seems to portray more Japanese styles than Chinese. For example, when Mulan is being prepared by the matchmaker part of her makeup routine is to cover her face with white powder, however, the white-powered face style comes from the style of Japanese geishas. Not only this, but Mulan is wearing an article of clothing that resembles a Japanese Kimono, despite the film being set during the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty had a traditional type of clothing for women to wear, which was not animated into Mulan. In Mulan there is a warming scene between Mulan and her father under a cherry blossom tree, however, it is commonly known that a cherry blossom tree is a traditional flower in Japan. The mix-ups between Japanese and Chinese cultures show that some westerns see the Asian cultures as one big cohesive one even though Asia is made up of 48 different countries.

Mulan misses the mark on representing the fashion and make-up styles, but it also mocks one of China’s most valued ideals. Mushu is supposed to be an ancestral spirit and he is loved amongst the audience for his comedic personality as he guides Mulan through her troubles. But, in Chinese culture, ancestral worship is a belief that is taken extremely seriously and is not to be mocked. Mulan doing this suggest that Westerns see China’s ancestral traditions as a joke or an idea that is ridiculous. One of the core beliefs of the tradition of ancestral connections stems from the idea of respecting your elders. However, Mushu, the ancestral spirit, is disrespected by Mulan and the cricket which undermines the whole idea of what an ancestral spirit is supposed to be or how it is supposed to be treated. This doesn’t just highlight the lack of knowledge but shows the little respect we have for the Chinese culture.

Disney wanted to include more races and ethnicities in the Disney franchise but its version of different races and cultures is skewed by the eurocentric view westerners have about the world around them.

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