Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Ballad of Mulan: The Original Poem

This is the original poem of Mulan.

The Ballad of Mulan

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,
Mu-lan weaves, facing the door.
You don't hear the shuttle's sound,
You only hear Daughter's sighs.
They ask Daughter who's in her heart,
They ask Daughter who's on her mind.
"No one is on Daughter's heart,
No one is on Daughter's mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters,
The Khan is calling many troops,
The army list is in twelve scrolls,
On every scroll there's Father's name.
Father has no grown-up son,
Mu-lan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse,
And serve in the army in Father's place."
In the East Market she buys a spirited horse,
In the West Market she buys a saddle,
In the South Market she buys a bridle,
In the North Market she buys a long whip.
At dawn she takes leave of Father and Mother,
In the evening camps on the Yellow River's bank.
She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,
She only hears the Yellow River's flowing water cry tsien tsien.
At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River,
In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain.
She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling,
She only hears Mount Yen's nomad horses cry tsiu tsiu.
She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war,
She crosses passes and mountains like flying.
Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots,
Chilly light shines on iron armor.
Generals die in a hundred battles,
Stout soldiers return after ten years.
On her return she sees the Son of Heaven,
The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall.
He gives out promotions in twelve ranks
And prizes of a hundred thousand and more.
The Khan asks her what she desires.
"Mu-lan has no use for a minister's post.
I wish to ride a swift mount
To take me back to my home."
When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming
They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other.
When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming
She fixes her rouge, facing the door.
When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming
He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep.
"I open the door to my east chamber,
I sit on my couch in the west room,
I take off my wartime gown
And put on my old-time clothes."
Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair,
Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder
She goes out the door and sees her comrades.
Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed.
Traveling together for twelve years
They didn't know Mu-lan was a girl.
"The he-hare's feet go hop and skip,
The she-hare's eyes are muddled and fuddled.
Two hares running side by side close to the ground,
How can they tell if I am he or she?"

From:The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry By Han H. Frankel, Yale University Press, 1976.


  1. its confusing but thats probabley the i like it

  2. its confusing but thats probabley the i like it

    1. Don't insult others when they may not have english as a first language. Be careful of what you say.

    2. Chinese does not conjugate and in chinese sentences do not have a time period so sometimes the translation is impossible.

    3. Also it's 16th century chinese poem to modern english which makes it even more difficult

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    5. If you don't "insult" people on their grammar or anything else, first language or no, how will they know if they did something wrong? and if they don't know they did something wrong, I could they fix it?

    6. You could politely point out what their mistake was instead of mocking the whole general comment.

    7. Yes and if everybody had that mind set the world would be a much better place

  3. This is beautiful. Mu-lan risked it all for her father. She is so inspirational, even if she didn't really exsist.

    1. Hua Milan did exist. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite quotes is by her: "That which you believe you can do you will strive to achieve".

    2. Sasha were I can Read more about her

    3. Just look her name up.on the internet...Hua Mulan. Also, order the movie "Mulan: Rise of a Warrior". It's a great movie starring Zhou Wei as Mulan. It has lots of action and romance mixed together. You'll love it

    4. Where did you find that quote by Mulan Sasha?

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    6. Fa/Hua Mulan is a very poetic name, thus many believe she doesn't exist. According to history, She was given the name Hua by Xu Wei of Ming Dynasty. She was later given the name Wei and Zhu. This means, if she exist, she had another name. However, Mulan is recorded as a citizen of Northern Wei, Thus, she did exist and if expedition allows it, factual records of her existence can be discovered along with further history of Northern Wei, Rouran and/or the Northern/Southern Dynasties Period.

  4. Thank you for the poem.. We are publishing article on Mulan at this issue of our magazine.. Middle Land the first Chinese and English magazine in connecting both western and easter culture.. you can find us at themiddleland.com


  5. This post is really informative to all kind of people. I am very happy to see the post. I will request you to give more information about this. I have gotten many knowladable speech form here. I have also website where you can get some knowledge which may be for your welfare. Visit here…..

  6. Obvious fact is obvious, but perhaps this page shouldn't be advertised as the original poem considering it isn't. It's one of various possible translations.

  7. Obvious fact is obvious, but perhaps this page shouldn't be advertised as the original poem considering it isn't. It's one of various possible translations.

    1. It's a professional translation of the original Ballad, This is valid.

  8. "Son of Heaven" is "Mandate of Heaven" instead

    1. No, Son of Heaven means the Emperor.

    2. Son is to a person as Mandate is to authority. The translation is correct. it is "Son of Heaven"

  9. this is actually the correct transasalation

  10. https://www.automd.com/downloads/amd-quiz.pdf

  11. Here is the link https://www.automd.com/downloads/amd-quiz.pdf

  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLGwkPDAvWI
    this is a link to a play that is inspired by the ballad. It is, by far, a closer depiction of the ballad than any other source.

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  14. I take it back, the play mostly depicts the Ballad except for the romance and extra drama. They don't know she is a female until the end but the drama does contribute to the story in a positive way.

  15. Thank you for posting this wonderful Ballard and many good comments. For your information there is a Martial Arts (made for women) named in her honour. First name is first unlike traditional Asian style of family name first because there were are already many Martial Arts dedicated to her with Fa or Hua said

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  17. Fascinating -- I have known the story for a long, long time, since I took Chinese at college. But it just occurred to me that the personal name "Mu-lan" must be construed as both a masculine name and a feminine name, written with different characters. Her comrades in arms knew what her name was-- just not that she herself was a woman

    1. Mu doesn't necessarily have to be masculine and Lan doesn't always indicate femininity.
      That's the most confusing thing about Chinese (and all languages, I suppose), it's all up to feelings and interpretation and cultural background.
      For example Lan (蘭) means orchid in Chinese, and it is a flower that followers of Confucianism consider to embody the virtue of "a true gentleman" (君子), as it grows in hidden vales (humility) and is fragrant (a sign of noble character, since it smells so nice—I know, it doesn't make sense to me in English either but trust me this sounds perfectly legit in Chinese). So you see, Lan is, in the traditional mindset of ancient Chinese people, very much masculine.
      As for Mu, this is indeed more masculine, but in a Jin Yong novel (popular martial arts author), the character Mu Wan Qin (木婉清) is a woman. This is not the best example, as Mu is the surname, but let's say if a person's called Li Mu (麗木) then it's almost always a feminine name, as Li indicates femininity clearly and Mu can be ambiguous.
      The point is, masculinity and femininity is decided in Chinese as a combined factor of all characters, and just to confuse you even more (yes I'm evil like that), in modern Chinese society some consider neutral (unisex) names to be superior, while the odd ducks name their daughters with obviously masculine names and vice versa just to avoid bad luck/bring good fortune.
      I'm Taiwanese, Mandarin is my mother tongue and traditional Chinese is the first language I learned to write in, so rest assured, I'm not taking the mickey out of you ;)
      For the name Mu Lan I'd say it's gender neutral leaning towards the feminine side, but that can also be me with the knowledge of Mulan as the one and only female general/heroine clouding my judgement.
      Always happy to meet people interested in learning Chinese!

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  19. It says when the younger brother...that means there is a boy in the family but is too young to fight so the father and thus Mu-lan has to go to war instead? They didnt depict brothers or sisters of Mu-lan in the movie....lretty sad

  20. I'm really happy to come across the original poem about my idol "disney" heroine. though the Disney animated movie was too far from the original, I think the story of Mulan's bravery and love for her family still stood out and still the main point of her whole story. Also happy to read insights of different people here, especially the extensive explanation of the name "Mulan". Will really take that to heart. Thanks Amy Lee for sharing that! :)