Modern History Sourcebook:
The Tale of Mulan, the Maiden Chief, c. 502-556 CE
[Tappan Introduction]: From the third century A.D. to the seventh, disorder and
crime increased. There was a northern, an eastern, and a western kingdom, and there were
attacks by the Huns. One emperor favored Buddhism; another banished or slew its priests
and destroyed their books. In the very death chamber of an emperor one of his sons struck
down another that he might gain the kingdom for himself. Extravagance was carried so far
as to become wickedness. One ruler built himself a magnificent palace, large enough to
shelter ten thousand attendants. His bodyguard was a regiment of superbly dressed women
mounted on horseback. On his amusements money was spent like water. Wherever he went, he
found bodies of his subjects hanging from the trees, for they had chosen suicide rather
than death by starvation; but this was nothing to him. One emperor used to run through the
streets with a drawn sword, slaying everyone that was so unfortunate as to come in his
way. Another saw the enemy coming, and instead of defending his city, he occupied himself
in burning the royal library, saying that all his studying of books was of no avail when
the time of his need had come, and now they should be destroyed. Freaks and vagaries ruled
the land. Now and then an emperor arose who loved his people and punished whoever
oppressed them. One such sovereign was poisoned by his own mother. From this time of
warfare come many stories of brave deeds. In these times of constant fighting, it happened
more than once that a woman held a fort against an invading enemy. Such a warrior was
"Say, maiden at your spinning wheel,
Why heave that deep-drawn sigh?
Is't fear, perchance, or love you feel?
Pray tell---oh, tell me why!""Nor fear nor love has moved my soul---
Away such idle thought!
A warrior's glory is the goal
By my ambition sought."My father's cherished life to save,
My country to redeem,
The dangers of the field I'll brave:
I am not what I seem."No son has he his troop to lead,
No brother dear have I;
So I must mount my father's steed,
And to the battle hie."
At dawn of day she quits her door,
At evening rests her head
Where loud the mountain torrents roar
And mail-clad soldiers tread.The northern plains are gained at last,
The mountains sink from view;
The sun shines cold, and the wintry blast
It pierces through and through.A thousand foes around her fall,
And red blood stains the ground;
But Mulan, who survives it all,
Returns with glory crowned.Before the throne they bend the knee
In the palace of Chang'an,
Full many a knight of high degree,
But the bravest is Mulan."Nay, prince," she cries, "my duty's done,
No guerdon I desire;
But let me to my home begone,
To cheer my aged sire."She nears the door of her father's home,
A chief with trumpet's blare;
But when she doffs her waving plume,
She stands a maiden fair.
Source:From: Eva March Tappan, ed., China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, Vol.
I of The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1914), pp. 57-59.Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.
This text is part of the Internet
Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No
permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.
© Paul Halsall, July 1998