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/>.


The Telegraph vs. The Internet

The introduction of the Internet has changed the way modern day society functions. I has changed the way people communicate, how business and governments operate, it has created new industries as well as changing how people work with the ability to work from home and it has definitely given the impression of making the world appear smaller.

Atlantic telegraph - Connecting the world

Atlantic telegraph – Connecting the world

This isn’t the first time though that society has had these affects from the introduction of a new technology. The Morse telegraph that was first introduced in 1836 had a very parallel affect on society. Although it was primarily used by Governments, Military and big business rather than the every day individual, the Morse telegraph, like the internet changed the way people communicate, how business and governments operate, it has created new industries.

One of the most significant outcomes from the introduction of the telegraph, that we can appreciate today, was the role it allowed women to play in society. For the first time, women had a significant role in the business world. The new industries and changes developments the telegraph allowed for business, saw women being able to have independent and importance in the working world, as most telegraph operators were women.

Women Telegraphers

Women Telegraphers

A parallel in this sense of creating equality and greater opportunity for both men and women is what I can see between the telegraph and the Internet, as the Internet definitely has no limitations on who can use it, and provides equal opportunity for whoever uses it.

The biggest parallel we can see between the telegraph and the Internet was the way the flow of information changed forever. With the introduction of both, the speed at which information flowed was quicker than ever before and in both cases we can see Governments losing control over the flow of information.

During the Crimian war in 1853, the British government, for the first time ever wasn’t in control of the information being released to the public about the conditions of their troops fighting in the war. Because of the telegraph and the new speed at which information was flowing, reporters like William Russell who worked for the Times, was able to update the public about the terrible conditions and lack of medical facilities their troops were facing in the war (Standage, 1998). Something the government was happy to keep from the public.

These days, like the telegraph, Governments have nearly no control over the flow of information published on the Internet. Cases like WikiLeaks, where an Internet site has been established to publish classified Government information purely to inform the public, is an issue facing governments worldwide.


Even though initially the thought of comparing something as old as the telegraph to something as modern as the internet seems absurd, there is no denying that the telegraph and the internet created just as an important change in society as the other.


Conger, C 2013, How the Telegraph Left Its Mark on Women’s History, The Blog, weblog post, 25 June, viewed 16 March 2015, <http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/blog/how-the-telegraph-left-its-mark-on-womens-history/>.

Standage, T 2015, ‘War and peace in the global village’, The Victorian Internet: the remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth century’s on-line poineers, pp.136 -153.