Ouyang Yuqian’s Mulan Joins the Army: The Wartime Propagandist and the Female Crossdresser

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2022)
Title: Ouyang Yuqian’s Mulan Joins the Army: The Wartime Propagandist and the Female Crossdresser
Stream: Film History
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Carolyn FitzGerald, Auburn University, United States


Although playwright, film screenwriter, and actor Ouyang Yuqian initially planned to write a film about Hua Mulan based on Ming and Qing unofficial histories of the legend that would present a tragic vision of "a woman who opposes feudalism", he changed his mind and decided that it would be better to write a movie script that "boosted people’s moral" during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). Instead of sealing Mulan’s fate with her eventual suicide, he therefore depicted a romance between Mulan and fellow soldier Liu Yuandu, whom she marries at the end of the film. Ouyang’s decision to write about a female warrior and add a happy ending to the Mulan legend marked a dramatic shift away from his pre-war dramas that had focused on the depiction of tragic women who were oppressed by their "feudal" families. In contrast, during the War of Resistance, Ouyang began to write about cross-dressed female warriors, such as Hua Mulan who successfully break away from their traditional families and devote themselves to fighting to defend the nation from foreign aggression. Ouyang’s switch from writing about oppressed women to portraying Mulan and other female warriors was also representative of a general trend in wartime culture. In this paper, I therefore use Ouyang as a case study to better understand intellectuals’ changing deployment of female symbols in response to the war.

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