Variable icons and images: Mulan and her legend in five legend-telling groups in Huangpi, People's Republic of China

Jing, Zhang (2017) Variable icons and images: Mulan and her legend in five legend-telling groups in Huangpi, People's Republic of China. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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The legend of Mulan, the Chinese woman warrior who disguised as a man and took her father’s place in the army, has a thousand year history in classical literature and modern media, and has become localized in five places in China. I focus this study on contemporary oral legends of Mulan that I have recorded through my fieldwork in one of the claimed birthplaces of Mulan: Huangpi. I apply Timothy Tangherlini’s methodology for interpreting legend (“Who tells what to whom in the form of a legend and why?”) as I identify distinct storytelling groups, examine the narrative repertoire of each, and examine their respective attitudes toward Mulan and her legends. I trace the sources of each group’s repertoire by examining the older written forms of the legend and I consider the role of brokers in transmitting versions between the telling-groups. The cultural and political context of the Mulan legend is also considered. The Mulan story has value to all levels of government in China, especially since the adoption of the concept of Intangible Cultural Heritage. For local governments Mulan is a driver of economic development through the attraction of tourists to sites identified with her. For the national government Mulan emblematizes ideal behavior as a filial daughter and a self-sacrificing patriot. The two main legend telling groups are the local and the official. The “local” group includes four sub-groups: the local people who have grown up around Dacheng Tan, Mulan’s birthplace; those who live close to her grave at General Temple; the Buddhists and Taoists on Mulan Mount; and those who work in tourism-related roles on Mulan Mount who act as brokers of the legends. The other “official” group is composed of government functionaries, amateur folklorists, and cultural experts. The two groups have different attitudes toward Mulan and the versions told in the oral tradition among the local population are given little attention or respect by the official group. The image of Mulan varies in each group: to those at Dacheng Tan she was an extraordinary local maiden; around General Temple she is considered a tragic hero and a local deity; to the Taoists on Mulan Mount she was a goddess with magical power sent from heaven with a mission; and to the official group she is a perfect woman and a moral icon. I present the range of variation within the Mulan legend cycle through the narrative repertoires of these distinct groups. I suggest reasons for and processes of legend variation by examining narrators, contexts, and motivations for telling the legends in their various forms, from oral to written and beyond in film and televison. I hope that this study of a legend from diachronic and synchronic perspectives, in the context of a limited local area, will promote new methods for examining and interpreting legends in Chinese folklore studies.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 12534
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 387-402).
Keywords: Mulan, Legend, legend-telling group, Huangpi
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: January 2017
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Hua, Mulan (Legendary character); Folklore--China--Huangpi Xian; Oral tradition--China--Huangpi Xian.

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