Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures Zhuoyi Wang recently gave two invited Zoom talks at Indiana University. Both talks are based on his scholarly research and media article on Mulan.
On Feb. 19, Wang gave an English-language talk, titled “From Mulan (1998) to Mulan (2020): Orientalist Imagination, Feminist Intervention, and a Compromised Progress,” as a part of the Colloquium Series organized by the East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University.
Wang gave a Chinese-language talk, titled “The Phoenix and the Flower: What Are they Key Differences between Mulan (2020) and Mulan (1998),” as part of the Chinese Tidings lecture series organized by the Chinese Flagship Center at Indiana University, on Feb. 24.
The first talk analyzed the Orientalism inherent in Disney’s cultural appropriation of Mulan's legend. Yet it also pointed out that common criticism of the Orientalism often ironically perpetuates the Orientalist paradigm by reducing the legend into a unified, static entity of the “authentic” Chinese “original.”
In an interactive manner, the second talk engaged its student audience in a comparative close reading of the two Mulan films, closely examining where the remake breaks free from and where it still embraces the original animation’s cultural appropriation.
In the end, both talks departed from the common perception that Mulan (2020) is simply an “Orientalist distortion” of the Chinese legend. They demonstrated how the remake, as the feminist director Niki Caro's work, makes a commendable yet compromised feminist intervention into both the millennium-long legend and Disney’s cultural imagination.