Orientalism in Mulan



Growing up, if I had been asked to describe any cultures, people or places within the Orient, I probably would have answered in the same way. That the food was exotic and eaten with chopsticks, I would have imagined that everyone drank tea, I would have pictured lanterns, incense, fireworks and lots of bamboo.

Over time, I came to realise that these ideas that incorporated and generalised so many cultures as being exactly the same, had been fed to me through Western portrayal of the Orient and it’s people. In reality these ideas didn’t truly depicted any specific cultures of the Orient, but through mediums, such as Hollywood film, I was lead to believe that if it was from the Orient, than it was all one and the same. This kind of Western stereotyping is known as Orientalism.

Orientalism is style, artefacts, or traits considered (usually be Western nations) as characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia and this has been seen adopted through out Western films and in particular, children’s animation.

The 1998 Disney film Mulan, is a fine example of Orientalism within children’s animation. The film is a recreation of an ancient Chinese poem Hau Mulan, about a young woman who impersonates a man and joins the army to save her elderly father from being sent to war and in attempt to restore her family’s honour.

Orientalism presents itself right throughout Mulan, the most noticeable being the combination of traditional Chinese and Japanese culture. The Kimono looking outfits, white faced makeup and geisha like hairstyles used, especially when portraying the ideal women in the song, Honor To Us All, appear to be exactly like that of the traditional Japanese Geisha and a depiction of Japan, rather then traditional china. Yet, Disney has found it so easy to incorporate it into it’s film because Western audiences simply interpret it as Asian, therefore Chinese.



Japanese Geisha

Japanese Geisha

With the same intention as including Japanese dress, the Japanese national flower the Cherry Blossom is also used throughout Mulan, which again, doesn’t accurately portray China but gives the message that because it is a plant found on the Orient, it can is ok to use to represent China.


Whilst disney has gone to lengths to show audiences that Mulan is set in China, by including scenes at the iconic Great Wall of China and Forbidden City, you can’t help but feel that Mulan is depicting anything that Westerners can recognise as Oriental rather then showing the traditional Chinese culture in accurate to the time in which Mulan was set.


Lee, H 2012, Orientalism found in Mulan, Moderato, weblog post, 25 November, viewed 30 March 2015, <http://m0derat0.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/orientalism-found-in-mulan.htm>.

The Scribe, 2011, The real story of Mulan, The Ancient Standard, weblog post, 17 June, viewed 30 March 2015, <http://ancientstandard.com/2011/06/17/the-real-story-of-mulan/>.


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