Disneyfication of Confucianism as Prersented in Mulan Essay

Filial Piety in the Ballad of Mulan compared to Disney’s version The legend of Mulan, the Chinese woman warrior, was first presented in an annonomous poem called “the Ballad of Mulan” which dated back the 6th sentury Tang Dynansty. The poem was written in five segments; each one represents Mulan’s origin, experience in the battlefield, and also sense of obedience to her family. The legend lives on as it is passed from one generation to other generation through diverse versions such as storytelling, poem, and movies.

Ultimately, the ballad takes on a new form when it was adapted into a 1998 Disney animated feature. This is the first time Disney has drawn on an Asian story and made filial piety suit the Western audience. Over the past few centuries, Chinese people have been entirely influenced by the ideal of Confucianism especially Filial Piety. According to the Analects of Confucianism, the term Filial Piety is defined as a range of values that solely emphasizes filial (Children natural respect) towards their parents and particular duty towards their elders.

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(1:2, Analect of Confucianism).

Basically, Filial Piety is so deeply rooted in Chinese traditional culture. It has also become the fixed fundamental value for every Chinese community that cannot be reconstructed by any means. In the original version, filial piety is repeatedly shown in Mulan’s conduct. First of all, Mulan never defies any of her parents’ commands. The ballad, as has been retold by Disney, justifies, that Mulan does not have the courage to turn down the matchmaking decision that her parents has arranged for her. As an obedient and dutiful daughter, she readily agreed without even once asking the purpose of her parents’ decision.

The last segment of the ballad even states that Mulan is eventually married the highly-selected man whom her parents have chosen for her and stays obedience until the rest of her life. In this sense, filial piety never leaves Mulan’s life, even if she tries so hard to leave the tradition and lives her life as she pleases (going to war, traveling to other place), but ultimately, she goes back to her tradition and finds herself still bounded by it. However, throughout the movie, a constant contrast is made between The Ballad of HuaMulan and Disney´s Mulan.

Unfortunately, Disney has restated and combined the two contracting values (The ideas of Filial Piety and American values). By re-orienting the ideal of filial piety with American ideals, Disney would like to make filial piety as a universal value, thus strengthens the image of the USA as the only superpower country among all. Indeed, the USA wants American values to be widely spread Filial piety in this case reflected by Confucian ideology which has spread great influence on Chinese culture. The Chinese have a special term for filial piety, xiao ao, which, according to Confucius, upholds the following points:

(I) Supporting and caring for one’s parents; reverences and obedience
(3) Continuing the ancestral line
(4) Glorifying the family name
(5) Mourning and ancestral remembrance

According to the motivation of Mulan’s joining the army, she joins the army in order to help her father get over the difficulty; rather than saving her country voluntarily. In other word, Mulan actually joins the army for the sake of her father and her family, practicing her filialness and love as the lines says; “Father has no grown-up son, Mulan has no elder brother. I want to buy a saddle and a horse, and serve in the army in Father’s place”” (the Ballad of Mulan, 1976). Furthermore, when the Emperor thanks Mulan by granting her wealth, title and land, Mulan only requests for a camel, on which she might journey back home safely as the sentences state, “I wish to ride a swift mount to take me back to my home” (the Ballad of Mulan, 1976) which points out Mulan misses her parents and wants to continue her role as a daughter and fulfill her responsibility of taking care of her parents. In the other hand, the contrasting image of filial piety in Disney version can be seen in Mulan’s self-realization and independence. We need to understand that the filial piety presented in the movie with the one in the original legend is different, because in the movie Disney portrayed back the filial piety based on American people’s understanding and stereotypes on Confucianism.

In this way Mulan described as a free individual who does not want to be bounded by the strict rules of Confucianism. Although, most of the time Mulan expresses her refusal to Confucianism, she still represents the value of filial piety to her father by disguising herself as a man warrior and taking her father’s duty in a war. In this sense, Disney tried to show Mulan’s dutiful character by bringing out Mulan’s “manly” and rebellious personality. However, in order to strengthen Mulan’s head-strong personality, Disney deliberately lessened the value of obedience and replaced it with Mulan’s pursuit of identity. In this sense, Mulan is described as being confused of her real identity. She is given two difficult choices between fulfilling her role as a potential wife or listening to her own calling (She wants to find her own love without the interference of other people, including her parents).

Moreover, the Ballad never explicitly tell the relationship between Mulan and her parents; but everyone can assume that Mulan does not have “a close relationship” with her parents unlike the one depicted in the Disney’s version. Because in filial piety, daughters are considered to be less valuable than sons; although Mulan is said to be the only daughter in the family, she still has the same discriminated treatment as described in the Confucianism-filial piety. However, in the movie, Mulan is described to have a very close and tight relationship with her parents, especially with her father even disallowed her to take his place in the war and did whatever he could to prevent Mulan from going away to the battlefield. All these display the mainstream of American culture, Individualism and the pursuit of identity, family values which have long been part of the Western cultural identity.

However a strong value that mostly dominates the plot line is the pursuit of identity. As directly quoted from Disney’s Animation President, Peter Schneider, “Mulan is a very intimate, personal story about a loyal and brave girl who’s going to find herself’, and “the search for who we are and the search for self are an ever-ongoing process and universal theme”. Barry Cook, the co-director, shared the same opinion that Mulan highlights the importance of an individual in a way that Mulan shows what difference one person can make. From this sense, Disney reinvents the story according to its production formula (happy ending-faitytale recipe), profit-making purpose, and remodel filial piety as a universal value through American point of view.

Disnifying and re-orienting the ideal of filial piety

First of all, in order to go further with the ”Disneyfication” aspect of Mulan, we must first explore the general types Disney employs throughout all of its “Princess” movies. Generally, the story arch of the typical Disney Princess is described as following formula: The princesses participated in stereotypically masculine activities, such as conducting diplomacy and war, yet plot resolutions reflected traditionally valued outcomes for women, such as the princess being paired with the prince and choosing to return to family life rather than pursuing novel opportunities. Thus, in order to fit in with their brand’s own styling, the Disney company changed the story of Mulan to include the well-known American values such as the pursuit of identity and individualism and Disney also added the element of romantic interest in order to keep up its “princess’ characteristics”. Disney’s image is quite the opposite to the plot in the original version.

Disney’s biggest target audience is basically children around the age of 5-12 years old. Thus, all Disney movies are always arranged to have a “certain happy ending” and also valuable moral lessons (always taken from the American values) so as to meet children expectation. In children’s eyes, a good fairytale must present brave and eligible main characters and in the end of the story, they must be able to accomplish their mission (either get married with the leading male character, become rich, defeat the villains and so forth). This pattern has long become the signature dish for all Disney’s fairy tales and set the basic formula for creating another Disney’s fairy tales.

However, because the typical Disney storyline is particularly highlighting women’s liberation from men, this time Disney transformed “the Ballad of Mulan” into a sort of Cinderella story, rather than an accurate portrayal of the Chinese warrior. Then, because the movie is addressed to global audience, Disney represented the typical value of American dreams in the movie. Filial piety in this sense is altogether combined with the value of American family (close relationship with parents), individualism and the pursuit of identity (turning down the match-making and replacing her father in the battlefield instead). Once again, Disney’s only purpose of re-orienting the filial piety and producing the “disneyfied” version of Mulan is partly caused by two reasons.

References :
* Legge, James. The Analects of Confucius. 2002. Guttenberg Project * Ma, Sheng Mei. The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity. The University of Minnesota Press. 2000 * http://religionandmediacourse.blogspot.com/2009/08/disney-and-religion-how-mu
lan-and.html * http://www.ourorient.com/mulan-in-legends.htm

* Dong, Lan. “Writing Chinese America into Words and Images: Storytelling and Retelling of the Song of Mu Lan.” Lion and the Unicorn 30.2 (2006): 218-33. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/uni/summary/v030/30.2dong.html>. References :

* Legge, James. The Analects of Confucius. 2002. Guttenberg Project * Ma, Sheng Mei. The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity. The University of Minnesota Press. 2000 * http://religionandmediacourse.blogspot.com/2009/08/disney-and-religion-how-mulan-and.html * http://www.ourorient.com/mulan-in-legends.htm

* Dong, Lan. “Writing Chinese America into Words and Images: Storytelling and Retelling of the Song of Mu Lan.” Lion and the Unicorn 30.2 (2006): 218-33. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/uni/summary/v030/30.2dong.html>. Once again, Disney’s only purpose of re-orienting the filial piety and producing the “disneyfied” version of Mulan is partly caused by two reasons. First, Disney would like to intensify American power as the only superpower country, by transforming the filial piety into a universal value. Secondly, Disney made the disneyfied version in order to fit the expectation of the global audience (children) and keep up the happy-ending formulaic recipe. Disney always focuses back on the marketing goal; thus, if Disney insisted on using the original legend without applying the disnified formula, Disney would lose its typical characteristics as the most prominent children’s storytelling brand.

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