Good Stories from China: Ballad of Mulan
Good Stories from China: Ballad of Mulan

Busily busily cricket sings [1]
By the door the maiden Mulan weaves
Why isn't the shuttle's sound heard
But only the maiden Mulan's sighs?
Ask the maiden of whom are you thinking
And what is on your mind?

Answers Mulan, of no one am I thinking
And nothing is on my mind
Last night, I saw the draft poster
The Emperor is calling many troops
The army listing has twelve scrolls
In all of them is father's name
Father has no grown sons
And I have no elder brothers
I want to buy a saddle and a horse
And serve the army in father's place

In the east market she buys a fine horse
In the west market she buys a saddle and a cushion
In the south market she buys a snaffle and reins
In the north market she buys a long whip
At dawn Mulan bids farewell to father and mother
At dusk she sleeps at the Yellow River's bank
The calling of father and mother is not heard
But only the running water of the Yellow River
When daylight breaks she left the Yellow River
At night she arrives at the Black Mountain top
The calling of father and mother is not heard
But only the running horses of the nomadic army in Mount Yan

Traveling ten thousand miles, Mulan fights in the battlefields
Overcoming impasses and mountains swiftly as though flying
The frigid wind carries the watchman's rattle in the northern country
The moonlight shines on the iron armors in cold nights
Having fought hundreds of life and death battles
Over ten years pass, and as a warrior Mulan returns

Returning triumphantly, Mulan meets the Emperor
Who sits in a shining hall
Receiving the highest honor in twelve ranks
Mulan is rewarded in a thousand and more
The Emperor asks what her wishes are
Mulan replies, being an official is not my desire
I only wish to borrow the camel's feet
That travel swiftly to take me back to my home

Father and mother hear of daughter's return
They come out of the city, holding onto each other
Elder sister hears of sister's return
She rouges herself in front of the door
Younger brother hears of sister's return
He sharpens the knife and comes for pig and sheep
Mulan opens the door to the eastern chamber
And sits on the bed in the western chamber
Taking off her wartime robe
She puts on her old-time dress
By the window, she fixes her long silky hair
Facing the mirror, she puts yellow power on her forehead
She then comes out to see her army friends
Who are all shocked and amazed
Having been in the same army for twelve years
They do not know a maiden Mulan really is

“The he-hare's feet hop and leap
The she-hare has bleary eyes
When the two walk together close to the ground
Who can tell which is he and which is she?”

Source: From “Yuefu,” an anthology of lyrics, songs and poems. This ballad comes from the Northern Dynasties (420-589 A.D.).

Note: [1] For poetic appeal, the translator chooses to treat this as the voice of crickets rather than the sound of a weaving machine.

Please read other articles of this series:
Houyi Shot Down Nine Suns
Painting the Dragons' Eyes
Fear Not That Others Know But That I Know
Nuuwa Created Humans and Mended Heaven
Pangu's Creation of Heaven and Earth
Hailibu, The Kindhearted Hunter
Paradise Beyond Peach Blossom
Old Man at the Border Lost His Horse
When the Lions' Eyes Turn Red

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