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Mulan is a Disney movie that debuted in 1998. The movie is set in China during the time of the Hun invasion. Mulan does not like to conform to the traditional Chinese daughter and is somewhat a tomboy. Therefore, Mulan takes it upon herself to go into way in place of her elderly and injured father by disguising herself as a man. With the help of Mushu, a small Chinese dragon sent by her ancestors to protect and help her, she proves herself as a female warrior. Eventually, Mulan brings honor to her family. Daoism is the religion that emphasizes living in harmony with nature, finding the natural balance in the ‘Dao’, ‘chi’ or ‘way’. According to the book, “To experience the Dao, we must leave behind our desires for individual things, a concept that runs counter to everyday concerns –how much something costs, what time it is now, whether something is big or small. The Daoist way of seeing things is so odd to some people that at first it seems like trying to see in the dark, as the end of the first chapter of the Daodejing describes: Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery”. Confucianism is focused on attaining virtues by respecting elders, honoring family, serving in government, and studying Confucius. Buddhism is founded on the teachings of Buddha and promises to escape from suffering. The movie Mulan incorporates themes and philosophies used in Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism very well.
The opening scene of Mulan shows the Great Wall of China. During this scene, Confucianism elements of defending China and serving the home country are presented. According to the text, “Daoism is strong in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and in overseas Chinese communities, such as in Malaysia and Singapore. After initially being repressed by the Communist Party, Daoism is experiencing a resurgence on the mainland. A large statue of Laozi was erected in 1999 in southeastern China, and pilgrims from Taiwan and elsewhere routinely travel to the mainland to honor the goddess Mazu at her pilgrimage site, Meizhou Island in southeast China”. In Chinese temples, it is not unusual to encounter entranced shamans and their followers. Some temples try to keep shamans away with warning signs. Watching the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the film I noticed more elements of Confucianism being displayed. Chinese Soldiers bravely defended the wall displays choosing the community over an individual. There is an effort to impress the matchmaker to honor her family. Mulan’s father prays to ancestors in an attempt to make things right again. Mulan says that she wants to ‘uphold the family honor’ after her father tells her that she ‘dishonors him’. Also, conscription notices are being sent throughout China to draft men to serve their country. The Daoism religion is based on the first Daoist philosopher’s teachings, Laozi. Laozi lived from 606 to 530 B.C. Laozi’s first teaching was that the goal of life was to obtain ultimate oneness with the Dao. The Dao is known to be a universal force connecting nature, but can only be experienced and felt. Additionally, Daoism enforces the teaching that humans should depict themselves as a part of nature and fully grasp that change is a part of everything as well. The Daoism religion emphasis that the best way to find peace is to live simply and in harmony with nature. Laozi discovered that to feel how nature acts he had to sit by a river, feel the breeze, and watch the nearby clouds. Also, Daoists do not believe that a strong government is necessary, but rather that happiness and peace are achieved by thinking about nature and leading a balanced life. A Daoist’s life is not fulfilled by following societal rules and laws. Ying and yang is the Daoism’s teaching of harmony. Ying and Yang is the symbolism of balancing opposite forces of nature. Yin’s qualities include female, dark, earth; yang’s attributes are male, light, sky, and heat. The Daoism religion is the belief that one must live simply with little rules. Daoism is going with the flow of nature and only controlling it when it is necessary. The song ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ states, ‘Tranquil as a forest, but on fire within. Once you find your center, you are sure to win”. These lines in the song are making comparisons and similarities of a soldier to nature. Also, the scene in the movie where Mulan has to fire a cannon to the snow-covered mountain to create an avalanche and kill the Hun Army, uses nature to defeat the enemy. Towards the end of the movie the Emperor tells Shang that “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and beautiful of all”. I believe that the Emperor is meaning to say that a “woman who seems like a misfortune eventually ends up being the best out of all of them”. There were a few signs of Buddhism in the movie Mulan.
The Buddhism religion is based on the teachings and life of Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha Gautama is known as the Buddha, and Buddha means ‘enlightened one’. Siddhartha Gautama resided in India from 563 to 483 B.C and Buddhism was introduced to China around A.D 200 by Buddhist monks and traders. These Buddhist monks and traders traveled quite a distance to China from India and Central Asia following alongside the Silk Road. Buddha’s teachings are known as the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is ‘all life is suffering and pain’. The Second Noble Truth is ‘suffering and pain are caused by desire for wealth, pleasure, fame, and power’. The third Noble Truth is ‘to end suffering, one must overcome desire’. The final Noble Truth is ‘to overcome desire, one must follow the Middle way’. The Middle way emphasizes good conduct and compassion for every living thing. Thus, the Middle Way guides the path to a calm and pure mind. Additionally, the Buddhism religion believes in reincarnation. One example shown in the movie is Mulan’s hair comb with a lotus on it. Lotuses are known to be symbolic of Buddhism. Even after a lotuses petals begin to wilt, the stalk stands strong; therefore, meaning that even after someone passes away their spirit will be reincarnated. Reincarnation is the belief that when someone passes away, their soul is reborn into a new entity. Furthermore, Buddhists firmly believe in the condition of desiring nothing, also known as nirvana. Once someone withholds nirvana, they break the cycle of life and death and are not reincarnated into an earthly life of suffering. Another example of Buddhism is seen in the movie when Mulan burns incense before she heads into camp to her father’s place. Buddist burn incense to purify their surroundings. Finally, Buddhists believe that their last goal is to lead a life of bringing others forth into enlightenment. The Confucianism religion is held on a strong system of beliefs based on teachings of Kong Fu Zi. Kong Fu Zi resided in China from 551 to 479 B.C. Europeans first called Kong Fu Zi Confucius. Kong Fu Zi worked on developing philosophies for life and government. These philosophies were geared on proper conduct, respecting elders, education, and government service. Filial piety is how to act towards other people like family and society. Maintaining a polite, kind, loyal, faithful, generous, and a hardworking stance is important. In China, everyone’s main goal is to bring honor and courage to your family and ancestors. Kong Fu Zi thought that this would create a well-rounded, peaceful, and firm society. Confucius constructed his philosophies and ideas on ancient Chinese traditions of respect and working hard. Confucius’s code of behavior was centered around five relationships. These relationships were 1) ruler and subject, 2) parent and child, 3) husband and wife, 4) sibling and sibling, 5) friend and friend. He firmly believed that with harmonious relationships, everyone would maintain loyal, courteous, honest, faithful, and obedient to authoritative figures. Confucius also believed that if a ruler’s life was lived based off of strong virtues, then the subjects would follow their example. Therefore, resulting in harmony and a stable society.
Confucianism has a philosophy that emphasizes on behaving properly and believing that those of lower class are to obey the higher class to create harmony. In the movie Mulan the first song ‘Honor to Us All’ verse ‘We all must serve our Emperor, who guards us against the Huns. A man by bearing arms, A girl by bearing sons’ depicts that everyone must carry through with their particular role in society to keep everything moving along. A man serves his country during the war to keep his family and country safe, meanwhile, a woman is bearing sons that will eventually grow up to defend their country. Women had a more difficult role when it came to their Confucian beliefs. Women were always seen as a lower class than men and had to bring honor and courage to their family. Not only did women have to be filial to their parents, but also their in-laws, husband, and sons. Women were expected to be quiet and respectful. Traditionally, women abandoned their birth families once they became married. The purpose of leaving their birth families was to become a part of their husband’s family. A few minutes before the song “Honor to Us All” begins, Mulan’s father is animated praying to his ancestors for good luck. Confucians pray to their ancestors to show them respect. Throughout the movie Confucianism beliefs, ideas, and concepts are seen. This allows for the movie to be portrayed accurately and more realistically since it is set in China and Confucianism is primarily Chinese. Ancestors are valued in the Confucian religion and are well used in Mulan. Every home has a devoted temple to their family’s ancestors and is prayed to frequently. Family ancestors are thought to protect the family during difficult times. Another example of Confucianism is shown when Mulan is exposed to not be a man, but a woman and sentenced to execution. The role of a woman is not to fight in the war; therefore, disrupting society and every one’s duties. She is disgracing her family at this point in the movie. Later filial piety is shown throughout the film. One example is when Mulan is listening to her parents. Another is the Zhao family name is respected and Mulan respects her father’s word. Lastly is when all the sprites were talking about Mulan and her disrespect about them by pretending to be a male soldier. Those are the examples of filial piety in the movie Mulan. In the movie Mulan, honor is shown in many ways. One example is when the soldiers demanded to have one male from every family to fight in the war, Mulan’s father Fa Zhou said: “it will be a great honor to fight”. Another way the movie illustrates honor is when Mulan was going to be a bride for a person from the matchmaker. Lastly, when Mulan saves the emperor from Shan Yu and his Huns the emperor said to her “you save us all”. In conclusion, this is how honor is shown throughout the movie. The example of obedience and relationships are presented when the general, advisor and citizens bow to the emperor. Also when the general and captain are addressed as ‘Sir’ to the soldiers. During the movie Mulan, the emperor’s advisor, Chi-Fu, obtained his job by passing the civil service examination. The civil service examination is based on the teachings and beliefs of Confucius. Lastly, the movie Mulan shows five relationships. One example is when Mulan gets ready for the matchmaker and listen to her mother. Another is when li song listens to his father and does what he says. Lastly, li song and the emperor told him to go to Mulan by saying ‘you don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty’. Those are examples of the five relationships in Mulan.
There are many references to the three different religions and their philosophies throughout the entire movie. Also, the original story may have been likely primarily based on Confucianism ideals and since it has made the most impact on the movie. Daoism is seen in the movie during scenes dealing with nature and the natural flow of life. Finally, Buddhism rarely appears, but is found if looking closely.
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