The girl in the general’s uniform

SCANDAL has rocked the Chinese army after it was discovered that one of its top male officers is actually a woman.

Hua Mulan, 32, decided to disguise herself as a man when she was drafted into the military 12 years ago.

Until a few weeks ago, none of her colleagues had a clue that she wasn’t a man.

The Chinese government had introduced national service so it could fight a war against the Hun nomads living on China’s northern border. All families had to give up their men, and the Hua’s were no exception.

“But when I saw my father’s name on the draft posters, and imagined an old man having to fight, or being killed, it was just too much, ” Ms. Hua recalled yesterday in an interview at the family home.

Her only brother was too young to take their father’s place, so Ms. Hua decided she would go instead. She bought a saddle and a horse, put on men’s clothes and, disguised as her brother, joined the army.

“It was very sad leaving the family, but I had no choice, ” she said.

Ms. Hua was already an accomplished martial artist, because many military families at the time trained their daughters in the arts of war.

Once in the army, she rose through the ranks quickly, making a name for herself as a brilliant military strategist. Twelve years later, the war ended, and all high-ranking officers were brought before the emperor to be honoured and promoted.

The emperor asked Ms. Hua, who had risen to the rank of general, what reward “he” would like. Court records have it that General Hua replied: “Mulan has no use for a minister’s post. All I want is a swift horse to take me back to my home.”

The emperor granted the request, and she returned to the family home. Once there, she took off her battle clothes, put on some make-up and let her hair down.

When she emerged, her former comrades were stunned, and realised that their fearless military colleague had been a woman all along.

Word soon got back to the emperor, who has ordered a government inquiry into the matter.

Some legal experts say Ms. Hua may have broken some laws by misrepresenting herself and pretending to be a man.

Defense Ministry sources say the scandal may lead to some senior officers being sacked. Ms. Hua, however, has already been approached by a movie studio, which wants to turn her amazing story into an animated feature.

Fab vocab:

SCANDAL - A disgraceful situation

DRAFTED INTO THE MILITARY - To be selected to serve despite not volunteering

SADDLE - A leather seat made to fit over the back of a horse



MILITARY STRATEGIST - Someone who is able to plan how to win in battle

EMERGED - Appeared

STUNNED - Shocked

GOVERNMENT INQUIRY - An official investigation into matters of public interest

LEGAL EXPERTS - Those trained in the law

If you enjoyed this, read:

> Fa Mulan by Robert D. San Souci

> The Outsiders by Susan Eloise Hinton

> The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

IN the weeks to come, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme presents a collection of stories donated by The Strait Times newspaper of Singapore for use by teachers and students in the classroom.

The stories chosen are classis legends, myths, fables and folklore from around the world rewritten as modern news or feature stories. Young readers and adults will enjoy reading the likes of William Shakespeare’s MacBeth and Hamlet and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in a modern news format. But these stories are not just good yarns.

They touch the soul, nourish the mind, and give readers a better sense of their place in the world. By sharing about the plots and characters, readers can make the stories a part of their lives.

The tale behind the story

The Ballad of Mulan is a famous Chinese poem about a girl who disguises herself as a man to join the army, so her elderly father does not have to.

Some scholars believe it was composed during the 5th century by a woman named Tzu·Yeh, although it is not known whether the story was based on a real person.

Centuries later during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), the poem, which was originally written in the form of a song, was expanded and spun into a novel and a play.

Another few hundred years later, it became an animated Disney movie which, however, changed one detail: Mulan’s secret is discovered while she is still in the army, and she is banished.

But one common thread binds all the adaptations of this popular tale: the idea of a woman beating the odds in a man’s world.

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Published twice monthly on Wednesdays, the colourful 16-page NiE pullout incorporates authentic materials from the newspaper into English language learning. It is written by experienced teachers/specialists and is endorsed by the Education Ministry. The syllabus-based pullout comes with a copy of The Star and is only available through school subscription. For more details, call The Star’s Customer Care Unit at 1-300-88-7827, Monday to Friday (9am-5pm).

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