The Social Context and Literary Elements in “The Ballad of Mulan”

Hua Mulan is a Chinese hero of legends who lived during the Northern and Southern administrations. Her story was portrayed through “The Ballad of Mulan,” composed around the fifth or sixth century (Mark). At that point, China was divided into north and south. The northern lines’ leaders were from non-Han ethnic groups, such as Turkic tribes. For example, the Toba tribe’s line managed the greater part of northern China from the fourth to sixth century CE (Frankel 1). The poem discovers the culture and ethics of Chinese people and historical events in that period. The incorporation of such literary elements as language, theme, imagery, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and symbolism connects the readers to the story and opens the cultural theme.

The poem’s language describes historical China’s details and its civilization when it was divided into two administrations. The story starts with the declaration of the war between China and the nomadic tribe, which is quite accurate to the historical events during the early Chinese empire. The text illustrates the ancient terms and words which can give some understanding of the Asian culture. The lines, in the beginning, are “The Khan is calling many troops; the army list is in twelve scrolls” (Frankel 2). The honorific “Khan” was given to rulers among the peaceful traveling individuals of the north. At this point, the realm assembles a man from each family to battle the attacking Huns. Mulan fears for her dad, a respectable veteran, who is not suitable for battling and participates in his place, disguising herself as Fa’s son, Fa Ping.

The central theme of the ballad is honor and love for the country. In Chinese culture, individuals profoundly esteem their families. In addition, Chinese culture highly values patriotism and loyalty to the country. Every family obeys the leader of the country and sends one man to protect the lands. Honor is the quality of the greatest importance in ancient times. Mulan fearlessly fights for the wellbeing of her nation and is ready to devote herself to this purpose. Even when the officials recognize her to be a woman, she decides to return home, emphasizing the role of family and loyalty in the Chinese perception.

Moreover, from the poem, the readers can understand the Chinese view on women’s and men’s duties, characteristics, and superiors’ role in families. For example, men were required to deal with family and had an obligation to battle, while ladies needed to wed great men to carry honor to their parents. Additionally, in numerous Asian societies, it is expected to discover grandparents living with their kids and their children. Seniors are cherished, taken care of, and respected by other relatives. Youngsters are required to deal with their younger siblings and show total compliance. Being the more seasoned kin, Mulan needed to spare her dad from enrollment and secure her younger sibling.

Onomatopoeia is used to imitate and express the sound something makes. For instance, the ballad starts with the sound of Mulan weaving, “think tsiek,” showing the women’s pastime in early China (Frankel 2). There are also sounds of nature like “Yellow River’s flowing water cry tsien tsien,” or horses’ galloping noise “tsiu tsiu” (Frankel, 2-3). All the onomatopoeias begin with the same letters’ t’ and’s,’ which gives a sense of Chinese words since there are many ‘ts’ sounds in the language. The melody of the poem is also displayed through the implication of alliteration. Several lines start with the same words, such as “you,” “they,” “no one,” “in the,” “she buys,” and so on. These techniques transform the sound effects and atmosphere of the work and make it more real.

Furthermore, the text uses imagery to convey the scenery of the battlefield and Mulan’s journey. The words in lines, “Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots, chilly light shines on iron armor,” describe the feeling of being in the war field (Frankel 3). There are also uses of similes, such as “she crosses passes and mountains like flying,” which help depict the heroine’s abilities as a warrior (Frankel 3). Besides, symbolism plays a significant role in identifying the mood and tone of the story. For example, the use of colors indicates the movement from one place to another. In the ballad, Mulan leaves the Yellow River, which stands for her home, and directs to the Black Mountains, meaning the battlefield. When she returns home from war, Mulan dabs her face in yellow powder (Frankel 3). It signifies the arrival to her birthplace and the change of war theme to a peaceful tone.

To summarize, “The Ballad of Mulan” is exceptional writing that uses different literary elements to express historical events and inform the readers about the ancient Asian culture. The inclusion of sounds and alliteration in the poem adds dynamics and realism to the plot. The use of imagery and symbolism depicts the detailed picture of the occurrences and the story’s theme. Moreover, the ballad consists of many descriptions of China in the fifth and sixth centuries and its people’s views.

Works Cited

Frankel, Han. Yale University Press, 1976, pp. 68-72. Web.

Mark, Joshua. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2020. Web.

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