When Does Mulan Take Place in History? (& Where)

When Does Mulan Take Place in History?

Mulan is one of the most popular Disney princesses and she was recently brought back when the live-action version of the legendary Disney animated movie was released. Although a lot of Disney princesses are based on different literary works, the story of Mulan is based on a real person. Since Mulan was a real person we could technically determine at which point at the time the story takes place. So when did the story of Mulan take place?

The live-action version of Mulan takes place sometime during the reign of the Tang dynasty. However, it is impossible to determine when the story takes place since the only official information released states that the movie was set in Imperial China, which is actually a quite large portion of China’s history.

If you want to know more about the origins of this popular story and why is it so hard to set it somewhere on the timeline keep reading.

When does Mulan take place?

Mulan is one of those Disney movies which would seemingly be easy to place when it comes to the question of when the story takes place, however, once you look into it a bit deeper you’ll discover it is actually a bit of a nightmare.

There are a plethora of hints which could help you determine when Mulan takes place, unfortunately, most will point to different time periods and you’ll get conflicting answers.

This is why most people simply assume that Mulan, much like Aladdin, takes place in a fantastical reality which could be based on real-life events and time periods, but don’t mirror them exactly. 

This would seem like the best answer since the number of historical inaccuracies and contradicting elements from different time periods doesn’t really make sense with Disney’s usual attention towards detail.

Although a lot of people would be the happiest with this explanation, there is only one problem with this explanation. Aladdin isn’t strictly based on any real-life story, but rather takes from certain literary characters and includes them in the story. 

On the other hand, the story of Mulan is based on a legend that tells the story of a real-life woman Hua Mulan. 

The official information regarding the movie actually states that the movie takes place in Imperial China. This should narrow the time frame and help us find the answer right? Well sure, now we are working with a time period set between 221 BC and 1912 AD, which makes up a little over 2000 years.

The first clue comes from the type of weapons used in the battles. Although most main characters use melee weapons and the training montage shows the soldiers training with hand-to-hand combat and some simple weapons, there are a few instances that show us that the movie is set during a time period after gunpowder was invented.

When Does Mulan Take Place in History?

Gunpowder was invented sometime during the ninth century which helps us narrow the existing time frame a bit. This means that the movie should be set somewhere after 900 AD. 

This is where the question becomes a bit more complicated. One of the defining features of the movie is Mulan’s enemy, Captain Li Shang. He was leading an army of Huns with the goal of overthrowing the Chinese Emperor.

However, no matter how you look at it, the Huns were not present in China after 200 AD. This is one of the most often pointed at historical mistakes in the movie since the two things could not possibly exist during the same time period.

Another clue could be the fact that we see the Great Wall of China during the opening of the movie. The wall commenced the building process sometime in the seventh century, during the reign of Chu State and the process lasted until 1878. 

If we combine this information with what we already went over in regards to the invention of gunpowder, we can further narrow the timeframe to sometime after the ninth century, if we ignore the Hun information.

The wall largely resembles how it appears today, implying that it happened during the Ming or Qing dynasties which would put the movie sometime in the fifteenth century AD at the earliest. 

However, the timing doesn’t add up since none of those dynasties had seen a major invasion of horsemen from the north.

The Ming were invaded from the north in the seventeenth century by the people who would create the Qing dynasty. However, that was a war in which the dynasty lost and Mulan isn’t a tale about losing a defensive battle.

We could also look into Disney’s original text to determine when the movie takes place. The original text actually narrows the time period a lot, however the finished product changed a lot of important points, which is why information from that script wouldn’t make much sense.

Anything exploration of historical references further than this simply proves that the movie contains a bunch of accurate and recognizable elements of Chinese culture, they are all over the place when it comes to time placement.

Although we don’t see much of the Emperor, we do get a good look at the way he is styled. The clothing choice implies that the story takes place during Tang Dynasty whose reign ended around 907 AD.

If we take a closer look at the weapons used during the battle scenes we can compare them to weapons from that time period we can conclude they resemble the weapons used by Song Dynasty which ruled from 960 AD and 1279 AD.

When Does Mulan Take Place in History?

All of this considered we have two options when it comes to the placement of the movie in a certain time period. 

The first being that the story is set in the far future, after an unspecified event that resulted in the loss of electricity and other technologies. This theory which applies to Aladdin is popular among the fans and could work for Mulan as well. This would also describe Mushu’s, the cricket’s, and the ancestors’ references to rock and such.

Another, more likely explanation would come from the fact that Disney hired someone who wasn’t really familiar with Chinese history hence all the elements from different time periods.


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Because of all of this, we can’t clearly determine when Mulan takes place.

When does the 2020 live-action Mulan take place?

In 2020 Disney finally released the long-awaited live-action version of Mulan. The movie has been in the works since 2010 and it has been said that working on the movie was a real nightmare.

Although there are a plethora of hints from different time periods, the live-action adaptation has one time period shown consistently, which helps us determine when the movie is set in Chinese history.

A lot of architecture shown in the movie as well as clothing choices show that the movie is taking place sometime during the Tang dynasty’s reign.


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Where does Mulan take place?

The movie takes place in Northern Wei, a kingdom from which the original story of Hua Mulan originated.

The Northern Wei Dynasty, also known as the Xianbei, were originally nomadic Mongol people (who also used the title Khan, a title which appears in the Ballad of Mulan). The Tang Dynasty (618–907) Sinicize them, and The Ballad of Mulan became part of popular Chinese culture.

 According to Chinese historical records, the real war depicted in the Ballad of Mulan took place between the Northern Wei state and a Mongolic state named  Rouran. The emperor of Northern Wei led an army to combat Rouran in 429, a battle that lasted 12 years, according to the Ballad of Mulan.

The Rouran Khanate was the first Mongolic people to address their rulers as Khans. The Rouran were most likely the last of a people known as the Xiongnu, who had been a threat to “China” in the north since the 3rd century BC. In the version of the Ballad of Mulan, the Rouran is referred to as the Xiongnu.

What is Mulan based on?

Mulan is based on the Ballad of Mulan, an ancient Chinese folk tale. Mulan is a Chinese word that means “magnolia flower.” It is a 392 Chinese character short folk tale that was written during the Northern Wei Dynasty.

The ballad tells the story of Hua Mulan, who took the place of her elderly father to serve the country, disguised herself as a man, and bravely fought in the army. She didn’t want any official reward when she returned to the court after the army’s victory; all she wanted was to be reunited with her family. Her comrades were all surprised to learn she was a female after she changed into her own clothes at home.

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