The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity

By Sheng-Mei Ma | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Mulan Disney, It's Like, Re-Orients
Consuming China and Animating Teen Dreams

The Name of the Dish

As Chinese legends have it, Mu Lan's family name is Hua, or, in Maxine Hong Kingston's Cantonese version, Fa. Inspired most likely by her The Woman Warrior (1976), the 1998 Disney animation Mulan calls the protagonist “Fa” as well. But in the film, she largely goes by her first name, while called “Ping” during her cross-dressing disguise. The rendering of her given name, Mulan, in the pinyin system, thus ridding it of the more defamiliarizing space and capitalization, makes possible easy identification between the young audience and the protagonist with an English -sounding name. Lest I be found a carping critic on the point of Mulan's spelling, one must realize that Mulan, along with the dragonlizard Mushu, are in fact exceptions to the rule of Chinese-sounding names; they are outnumbered, based on Disney's accompanying children 's book, by Fa Zhou her father, Fa Li her mother, Shan-Yu the Hun chieftain, Chien-Po the bald giant, Cri-Kee her familiar, and others. The splitting of the word “cricket” to create the monosyllabic “Cri-Kee” demonstrates the Orientalist context within which Mulan's more Englishsounding name appears. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of characters have names that are, at once, exotic and familiar — the precise Orientalist formula of projecting the self's deepest longings onto the other, a magic mirror dwarfing and caricaturing none other than the self taken to be someone else. The yoking of strangeness and banality in Orientalist representations succeeds in accommodating and domesticating the unknown. Hence, Mulan's steed is “Khan, ” after Genghis Khan. Her companion,

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