In the movie, Mulan, Mulan is the protagonist who finds herself in a predicament
between following a women’s role in the Confucian religion or helping her aged
father when the emperor orders one man from each family to join the war.

Ultimately, she pretends to be her father, Fa Zhou, and takes his place in a
war against the Huns during the Han dynasty. Themes of Confucianism surround
the movie, such as the way China tries to achieve harmony as well as the five
main relationships in Confucianism, two of the main themes implemented in this
film.

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To begin with, the main problem for
Confucianism is disharmony and disorder. In the film, the emperor of China is
trying to maintain the peace and harmony in the country by defeating the Huns
during the war. The film displays the different ways China tries to achieve
peace and harmony through the different principles of Ren, Li and Junzi
(Arnold). The first principle exhibited is Ren which is the concept of having
virtue and integrity. Initially, when Mulan decides to impersonate her father,
it seems like she is bringing more disorder to her family. However, as the film
progresses, her courage to make this decision displays a sense of good faith
and sincerity as she tries to help her father and ends up bringing honor to her
family by saving the emperor of China when the Huns attempt to assassinate him.

As a result, Mulan succeeds in what the emperor is trying to implement which is
having morality and doing things for the correct reason.

To continue, Li is defined as
rituals and the propriety in practice which is represented in a variety of ways.

The first ritual is displayed by Mulan in the beginning of the film as she
meets with a matchmaker and pushes herself to maintain proper conduct and conform
to the socially accepted behavior of a traditional Chinese woman. To represent
herself as displaying proper conduct of an ideal wife, she undergoes an
extensive makeover prior to meeting the matchmaker. Furthermore, another ritual
exhibited in the movie is Fa Zhou’s dedication in giving respect to his family
by constantly worshipping his ancestors. In the beginning of the movie, he is seen
in a gazebo surrounded by his ancestors’ headstones as he completes a prayer for
Mulan. Mulan has a sufficient sense of discipline, seen as another ritual, displayed
towards her parents by obeying their orders, such as when Fa Zhou orders Mulan
to stay quiet when the emperor arrives to deliver his order for the battle and
she listens. In addition, Mulan also represents the ritual of discipline as she
is seen serving tea for her family and elders when she is at home.

Due to the ritualistic discipline
that she constantly portrays, the ancestors wake up from their headstones and
temples when Mulan runs away to impersonate her father, to figure out how to
guide her through her journey in order for her to not get exposed for being a
woman in the war and bring dishonor to the family. On the other hand, Shang,
the captain of the army unit, authorizes an obstacle in which all the trainees
have to climb a pole and reach the top. Mulan becomes determined and displays a
strict sense of discipline herself as she practices climbing the pole every day
until she succeeds and reaches the top.

The duty to the government is
another ritual demonstrated in the film. Even though Shang is the son of the
captain in the military, he still serves as a prominent role in the government and
follows orders from his father as if he’s receiving it from an actual commander
in chief and portrays himself as a leading example to the rest of the trainees
in the army. Overall, Shang’s dedication to his government obligation depicts a
ritualistic approach in Confucianism. Finally, ceremonies such as the meeting
Mulan and the matchmaker present in the film as well as the celebration of the
emperor’s birthday toward the end of the film is also a form of discipline the citizens
of China has for the ruler of their country.

Lastly, the Junzi principle is the
concept of being an overall well-rounded gentleman or superior person who has
perfected the intentions of both Ren and Li. A majority of this principle is
displayed by Mulan’s father as he represents the perfect, ideal gentleman who
wants to do good for his country and is willing to risk his life originally,
when the emperor sends out the order to each family for the war against the
Huns.

To continue, filial piety and the
five main relationships are critical to Confucianism. As mentioned prior, Mulan
embodies the important concept of having honor and respect for her parents,
elders and ancestors throughout the entire film. The most important
relationship in the Confucian religion is the relationship between the father
and son. In this case, the father and daughter relationship are portrayed
between Mulan and Fa Zhou and the integrity she maintains for him in the film. In
addition, Mulan does not have a sibling in the movie however, she is seen
calling her pet dog, “little brother.” The dog is seen following Mulan, who
would essentially be presented as the eldest sibling, and mimicking what she
does as well as obeying her commands. Furthermore, another important
relationship in Chinese religion is the relationship between a husband and a
wife. Mulan’s parents are seen having love and support for one another as Mulan
tries to present herself as the ideal wife in Confucianism as mentioned before.

The ruler to ruled relationship is
displayed multiple times in the film when the Chinese emperor orders that one
man from each family to join the Chinese army. As all the members in the army
follow commands from his Shang, this is also able to further implement the
ruler to ruled relationship in Confucianism. Lastly, the friend to friend
relationship is shown between the other male warriors and Mulan as well as the
bond Mushu and Mulan create along with their support for one another as the
movie progresses.

Even though there are multiple ways
Confucianism is displayed in the movie, the religious themes presented
throughout the film are relatively Americanized. In a case study conducted by
Jing Yin, he states that “Chinese cultural values were selectively disposed and
replaced with Western ideologies that simultaneously pacify feminist criticism
and reinforce the racial/cultural hierarchy” (54). Disney’s influence is
effective and profound to the point that audiences rely on these genres of
movies to be an educational, accurate depiction of what Chinese religion is
like. The media in recent years has become a powerful source in accessing
information when people are incapable of obtaining it through real experiences.

The mass media is capable of not necessarily misrepresenting reality, but
rather it forms a connection and unifies two different elements. Yin continues
on to describe the “distorted representations of Chinese culture in the film”
explaining that, “Chinese cultural elements were used to instrumentally ensure
a façade of otherness…the royal dragon symbol was ridiculed into a frivolous
lizard with a name of an ethnic Chinese dish, Mushu. Stereotypical Chinese
icons, such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, giant pandas, dragons,
ancestor worship, and martial arts were used as mimicry of Chinese culture”
(60).

To continue, the female figure
that’s portrayed in the film goes against the principle of filial piety as she
is featured as defiant and impulsive. “Disney’s version of filial piety is the
very contrary to the original Confucian teaching. In this sense, Disney
diffuses this Confucian norm with one of American most cherished principles,
individual’s equality of opportunity” (Christina & Suprajitno). Overall,
the concept of Confucianism is exaggerated and is directed a way from the
traditional sense of the religion in order for the norms of the religion to be
more approachable to the typical Disney audience. Although this may be true,
the film still succeeds in portraying two of the main themes in Confucianism
throughout different principles and relationships.