From here http://sakimichan.deviantart.com/
BRHood: Hey guys! I’m going to need some help on this. And I’d love it if our Chinese and other Asian followers who may know more than us could comment so we can get this discussion going.
I remember a while ago, like a year or so ago, I read THIS POST (took me soooooo long to find it again) discussing Mulan from a feminist aspect. In hindset, it annoying uses western ideas of “feminism” to critique a Disney version of a Chinese story, but whatever. In the article (which I think the girl wrote for a school assignment), it’s mentioned that the Disney Mulan does not really LOOK authentically Chinese.
Part of Mulan’s charm as Disney Princess and Asian woman is her ravishing beauty, pale skin and “tiny waist.” However, as Zhongshun writes, “…it was never stressed in the ancient poem that Mulan was a ravishing beauty” (Zhongshun 23). Furthermore, Zhang Renjie argues that Disney artists “chose to create a Mulan that looks like a Vietnamese” (Renjie 31), versus an authentic-looking Chinese girl.
I would love it if our Chinese followers could maybe clarify. I say this because this submission made me wonder just how “whitewashed” the first picture is when the second picture (the original Disney version) , from my understanding, is not an accurate portrayal of Chinese girls. So what should Mulan REALLY look like? Thank you kindly for any responses we may get.
As a young-ish Asian American girl when Mulan first came out in the early 2000s, I distinctly remember not liking Mulan’s appearance. I never really pinned down why exactly this was until recently.
I mean, what was up with those slanty eyes? I remember arguing with white kids on the playground when I was younger and the only Asian in my class that Asians didn’t have slanty eyes, see how I did not; I really resented that Mulan had slanty eyes and here Disney was winning the battle over that stereotype.
I just remember thinking: she is Asian and ethnically Han Chinese, like me (though my family is more Taiwanese than Chinese at this point)…but I don’t look like that, do I?
And I can appreciate Disney basing her appearance on ancient Chinese standards of beauty with the round face and thick eyebrows and defined features, because that is a thing, but still…working on the Racebending protest I really, really began to resent Mulan.
Rage resent. Because people would say things like, “If Aang is supposed to be Asian, why doesn’t he have slanty eyes, why doesn’t he look more like Mulan.” And even if I had contextual proof (eg. the Avatar creators have stated that they decided to use the Korean animated art style to draw faces since that was what those artists were good at, etc.) there was still this mental disconnect…because Aang did not look like what white people (and really all Americans via osmosis) EXPECTED Asians to look like. Because these stereotypes are so engrained.
Early on in the Airbender protest, I remember giving a long ass PowerPoint presentation on the Asian elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender to a prominent Asian American advocacy group in order to convince them that Avatar was in fact being whitewashed. The leaders of the organization told us that Aaang and co. had round blue eyes and they were confused, until I reminded them that this was the case in anime as well.
I remember protesting the Runaways casting calls because Marvel was seriously, seriously considering whitewashing the Japanese American character of Nico Minoru. I remember approaching other longstanding Asian American groups with this news to ask for their support in pursuing the issue. I would send out these briefing sheet emails and attach images of Jo Chen’s beautiful covers featuring Nico. I encountered so much resistance because to these older non-comic book, non-anime savvy Asian American advocates, Nico “didn’t really look that Asian” to them. Instead of being happy that for once, we were not being drawn with exaggerated, stereotypical features, they doubted that Nico was Asian at all.
We got the same questions from mainstream geek press. “She doesn’t look Asian to me.” So I began to cull images of Nico from all of the different artists who worked in the book. And I noticed that the Asian, Asian American and Asian Canadian artists would draw Nico looking, well, “normal” …and the non-Asian artists were more likely to, well…draw her as looking like Mulan. Because that is what we are accustomed to imagining cartoon Asians as “looking like.”
My love-hate relationship with Mulan is really impacted by the way she was depicted, to the point where I still can’t stand Mulan merchandise. I’ve been looking for an Asian Barbie doll for a long time but I feel like the Mulan doll isn’t a good substitute because of her exaggerated racialized features. I don’t know if I am the only Asian who feels this way or not. I simply experience a lot of cognitive dissonance between how I feel Mulan should look like and how she does look like. I PARTICULARLY resent Disney for always marketing her in the same goddamn outfit she sings about as oppressing her in the movie, and for calling it a freaking “kimono” last Halloween, etc.
And for me, it isn’t about wanting Mulan to look more “white” even though yes, I grew up in a culture that taught me that white beauty was normative and to have her not look like the other princesses is kind of othering, etc…It’s just about her not looking like an alien. Because I’m pretty sure part of the reason why aliens are drawn with slanted eyes is because in the early and late 1800s Asian immigrants were referred to as celestials and aliens because we looked so different. (citation needed.)
To me, Mulan looks like what white people expect Asian people to look like, and not what I felt Asian people should look like—or do look like. While I don’t think the first picture is perfect either, it is closer to how I would have drawn Mulan.
Anyone else want to add?
I’m on the fence about this. I’m a Chinese girl who doesn’t mind that Mulan looks so stereotypically Chinese. People from different racial groups have facial features either unique or common to that particular group. For Asians, the most prominent thing will be the epicanthic fold, which Mulan has. I’m alright with that. Still, I understand where jedifreac is coming from. Not every Asian looks like Mulan, and neither are they supposed to look like her—for example, I don’t have slanted eyes with the epicanthic fold.
As someone who draws as a hobby though, I like that Mulan stands out so much from the Disney pack. I like the thick eyebrows and golden undertone to her skin and full lips. I’m not saying that differentiating Mulan to such an extent doesn’t come with its own host of problems, but at the time the movie came out, I was too overjoyed to watch a Disney Princess on the big screen with whom I could share a passing resemblance to care about anything else.
Anyone else want to add?
OK, as the author of the “western ideals of feminism” to critique a “disney version of a Chinese story,” I’d like to speak the hell up.
1. I don’t see what’s wrong with apply western feminism, since Disney pretty much ignored any sort of Chinese cultural elements anyways, and Disney is a western company, and since “western” characteristics were pretty much used to be synonymous with “liberated and individual” whereas “Chinese” characteristics were pretty much used to give Mulan some weird traditional paradigm to fight for.
2. And plus, I mean, they made her look like a geisha and at one point, even put the god damn Japanese flag on a tent.
3. Not to mention they pretty much nixed the original story’s ending, which is not a weird “omg I must marry you” thing, and more of a “look, soldiers are just like rabbits and sex clearly didn’t matter” thing
4. But ok, the point is here, she doesn’t look that Asian. She looks, at best, part Asian. One of the reasons why Mulan sort of flopped in China is because THERE IS NOT REALLY ANYTHING RECOGNIZABLY CHINESE ABOUT THIS FUCKING MOVIE
5. Anything westerners flag as “Chinese” is really just weirdly homogenized, orientalist, “they’re all the same” racist crap. Sow’s ear, silk purse? No real origin, just sounds “Oriental.” Weird geisha-like makeup? Japanese. Occasionally, some of the quotes Mulan makes about the role of what women should be might be ancient chinese texts…except they’re oddly westernized with the idea of “OMG SHE’S MAKING BAD RHYMES BECAUSE SHE SMEARED HER CHARACTERS” (and, can i just say, chinese calligraphy ink? REALLY HARD TO JUST WIPE OFF).
6. The whole fucking “A girl worth fighting for” bullshit is filled with stereotypical tropes as well.
7. Point being, Mulan is a Chinese princess created entirely for White Audiences. She’s inspired generations of little white girls to don yellow face. Her eyes are ridiculously wide, her skin is ridiculously pale (which is so problematic to begin with, because I mean, there’s a huge lightskin over dark skin culture in Asia). Her boobs also magically change size a lot. Which is also a huge problem that a lot of Asian women have, in terms of self-esteem (small boobs, not magically changing boobs).
8. So any haters out there who are like “OMG IT’S AN ASIAN STORY YOU CAN’T APPLY THESE THEMES TO IT AND OMG IT’S SO ASIAN” No. It’s really fucking not. Disney claimed to have spent months researching in China, and still came up with bullshit like a Japanese flag, and a character named fucking MUSHU. Not to mention really trivializing ancestor veneration and also, wtf, Huns? And then making the story of Mulan not about filial piety and essentially doing what’s right, but more about “I AM AWKWARD NOBODY LIKES ME I’M GOING TO MARRY MY HANDSOME WARRIOR DUDE.”
FUCK. I’m all pissed off now.
PS: edit, and as an aside: MULAN WAS AN EXAMPLE OF FEMALE MODESTY. Know what “model” Chinese women didn’t wear at this time? Makeup.
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