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Story of Mulan

The story of Mulan was in our textbook in elementary school. The moral of the story was Xiao, the devotion to the family. There were three big sins counted as not Xiao, but Wu Hou Wei Da: having no offspring was the biggest one. Having a girl doesn’t count. Girls were considered as other families’ property. That is why when my step-great grandpa had six wives and none of them produced a son, he adopted his nephew instead and passed down his wealth and family name to him.


Even though liberated China under communist rule said men and women are equal, the influence of China’s feudal society runs generation deep. When my younger sister was born in 1974, my dad refused to give her a name. Being the only boy in the family, he had the pressure to produce a son. There was a two-child policy back then, so having another girl sealed the fate of the Duan family. Mom felt she brought deep shame to the family.


I grew up wanting to be better than the son the Duan family never had. I must be Mulan.


In the last three weeks, from California to Oregon, I met four of my high school classmates whom I haven’t seen in decades. I asked each one of them what they remembered about me during high school. Everyone said I was tall and scary. I am only 5’5”, petite by American standards but tall for a Chinese woman in my generation.


“You were very serious. We were kind of scared of you.”


When we were in high school, the school system was run like the military. Classes were organized in units. Each unit had about 10 students and each class was made of five units. Each unit had an appointed leader and we were given a white armband with one, two or three red bars indicating our rank. I had one-bar in elementary school and progressed to have two-bars in middle school. One-bar meant I was in charge of a unit, while two-bars means being in charge of the whole class. Three-bars is being in charge of the entire grade.


I was appointed to be the head of the Communist Youth League in my high school class, although I don’t know why. Maybe because both my parents were communist party members who served in the military for twenty years. Following orders and being loyal to the party was a natural way of my young life. I listened to the rules and gave orders to my class. It was expected. Just like how I expected myself to be the son of my family.


I love the adaption of the Disney movie Mulan. I love how Chi, the life force, was at the center of the movie. It wasn’t necessarily a skill Mulan had, rather, it was her belief. A belief system decides how one conducts one's life.


I no longer have the same belief that once bound me to the ground.


In the old textbook story, Mulan went back to her village after the war and no one knew she had been in the military until her comrade came to visit her one day.


In the new Disney movie, Mulan purposefully reveals herself as a girl, knowing about the consequences. In ancient Chinese law, women would be killed if found in the military. It’s considered indecency. But in her red and black clothes, Mulan looked like a Goddess and she was not afraid.


I am a Goddess too, but I am afraid.


I am afraid of old age. I became impatient. I am afraid of my dream dying without me fully embracing it. I am afraid of writing the raw and authentic me. Am I revealing way too much?


“People are going to judge you. Be prepared.” My beautiful editor said.


I want to share these lessons with women, especially the young ones. But would young women really care about my story? Each generation is so different.


Last week, we spent two afternoons in Powell’s Bookstore, the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world with over a million books. I was surprised to find a whole section of books on China. Hundreds of books. Rows after rows. Author after author. I read over and over again that they were called to write their stories.


Yes, I am afraid, but I am also called to write this book. I asked myself, Who is actually afraid?


I realized it is not me, a grand and beautiful soul. It is the ego. The ego is chattering in the mind and being afraid. This Goddess knows her time is elegant and perfect. She has Chi, just like Mulan.


Love,

WeiLi


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