Me: I am not going to do my own translation of the Ballad of Mulan
Also me: Installing Chinese fonts because some of the characters from the Ballad of Mulan don't show up in my browser & text editor. Strictly for reading purposes, of course.
The expression 當戶 bedeviled me for some time because 當 has had a drift in meaning to denoting societal and normative rather than spatial relations. Looks like the translations are correct in rendering it as "beside the door," though. Interestingly 當戶 is also a more modern expression meaning "take charge of the household," which is fittingly representative of Mulan's role in the poem, though I'm pretty sure the poet did not anticipate that future usage and this is just a pleasing coincidence.
It's not even a *good* deception, like the original text is right there and anyone can read it. Everyone knows the historical fact that the Northern Dynasty was founded by a branch of the nomadic Xianbei, and they are far from the only nomadic dynasty to have ruled over China. What even is the point of this lazy, inaccurate translation?
So fascinating to find out that 啾啾 jiujiu, used to refer to the enemy steppe horsemen's cries, means the sound of insects squeaking or birds twittering. I've seen a very similar expression when 18th-century Korean scholar Park Jiwon referred to the sound of Japanese people speaking among themselves as "twittering [like birds]." It's fascinating how prejudice and ethnocentrism found such similar expressions, 12 centuries apart.
the barbarian doth protest too much
There are additional layers here because the Ballad of Mulan takes place against the backdrop of the Northern Dynasty's war against the nomadic Rouran. The fight was between a settled and sinicized nomad dynasty, the Tuoba-Xianbei, versus current steppe nomads the Rouran, whom the Tuoba-Xianbei emperors called Ruanruan, the "wriggling worms."
Similarly, when Park spoke dismissively of the Japanese language he ignores, or perhaps tries to ignore, the fact that Japanese is far more closely related to Korean than Korean is to Chinese; in fact, Korean and Chinese have no linguistic relationship other than the vast Chinese influence through the Chinese writing system. Japanese and Korean on the other hand have nearly identical grammars and close etymological relationships.
There's a complicated psychology here of barbarians distancing themselves from other barbarians related to themselves, like they need to deny that part of themselves in order to be worthy of respect in a Han-centric worldview.
"Mulan's father and mother, hearing of their daughter's return
Come out the city gates to greet her, leaning on each other"
THIS is a big reason I didn't like any of the English translations I saw, because while they did the "came out the city gates to see her" thing they left out the touching detail of her aged parents leaning on each other to walk a long way just to see their daughter a few minutes sooner. Mom, Pops, your daughter is riding in on your era's version of an SUV with her posse--you can sit *comfortably* at home and still see her plenty soon!! But no, that's not how parents work, is it? We're fools like that lol.
Also the fact that Mulan's father is so frail that he needs to lean on his wife, and the way the two support each other physically and emotionally, shows just what Mulan's bravery was all about. There's no way this old man could have survived a decade of military service, and the grief of losing his companionship would have taken a heavy toll on her mom, too. On a related tangent, every adaptation that killed off Mulan's mom as an inconvenience can go 🖕 itself.
This goes back to near the beginning of the poem but I think it's pretty clear that Mulan in the original did *not* run off without her parents' knowledge. Circumstantially she's shown spending a substantial amount of money on her gear, going all over town to find a horse and gear. It would have been pretty unusual for someone in 6th century A.D. to be able to make such a substantial purchase without their family's knowledge, not to mention she would have been seen all over town and word would have gotten back to her parents.
Her departure is also described as 旦辭爺娘去, "in the morning she takes leave of her father and mother," and while the same expression is used of her leaving the Yellow River (旦辭黃河去) the natural interpretation is that she said good-bye to her parents as the letter 辭 says, and the same expression was used later on for the river because leaving her home region was a wrenching parting on par with leaving her parents. *sniffle* My poor, brave girl...
Besides, mornings in ancient rural societies started early as FUCK and you cannot get the run on your parents, not to mention two nosy siblings, by sneaking out in the *morning* like some wimp lol. If Mulan wanted to run off without anyone knowing it would have had to be in the dead of night.
Mulan entering her room is a change of tone in so many ways. For one thing the point of view changes to the first person and she speaks with her own voice where she was referred to in the third person during the rest of the poem. It's almost like she was another person from the moment she decided to go to war, and now that she's safe at home with the people she loves she speaks in her own voice again, in the intimacy of her own room removed from the loving bustle of her family and certainly the bright grandeur of the palace and the howling winds of war. Here, shedding her male outer coat and putting on her skirt (the poem is specific about the articles of clothing), fixing her hair and putting flowers in it, she is 我 (me) for the first time, not the dutiful daughter or brave soldier, just entirely herself, Mulan, doing something for herself and by herself.
@ljwrites parallel to the concept of a doorwarden, someone who gatekeeps the household or edifice, controlling ingress and egress as they stand beside the door?
@WanderingBeekeeper That makes a lot of sense for how "by the door" could become "take charge of the house!" And, in keeping with what you say, the letter 戶 (hu) for door drifted in meaning from physical door to household. Nowadays a physical door would be denoted by 門 (wen) instead. And now I am dying to find out if it was usual for women's looms to be next to the door in that culture and time period--in later times I'm pretty sure women's quarters moved inward.
@ljwrites does that have the same idea of "cold" as that in traditional chinese medicine? (i.e. 凉 as cooling)
@noctiluca 朔 is a much wilder, uncontrolled kind of cold than 凉 (cool) or even 冷 (cold)--it denotes Northern winds, frigid weather, and as mentioned, cold sickness (I'm guessing pneumonia/flu and related?). Definitely nowhere as benign as medical terms, unless those terms are describing illness.
@ljwrites ahhh yeah I only know those terms in dialect but it's the idea that some foods/diseases are "heaty" (dry cough, fever) and some are "cooling" (phlegm)
@ljwrites How much Chinese do you know? I assume you're not solely relying on computer translation to help you out here.
@ljwrites Also, hi, I've been scratching my head trying to find an excuse to talk to you for a bit. I miss you. How are you?
@MoMartin Are you sure that's not the itch? 😂 I've missed you too, I figured you were busy with settling down & learning Yiddish and such! Things are hectic but good, keeping busy & having fun with side projects, with Marcia breathing down my neck to do homework they're so meeeaannn 😭 how're things going with you?
@ljwrites Settling down and learning Yiddish aren't taking up so much, it's more writing and cooking that's taking up all the time. I'm making progress on what might be a novel? Good lord. I was supposed to do a podcast with Marcia, but I think it's on indefinite hold. Glad she has someone else to bully 😬
@MoMartin you're spending your days creating things, which is good! And ooh possible novel? 👀 Also am I the sacrificial lamb T_T but yeah, Marcia's gonna be busy until at least November-ish with the classes, I think? Not to mention the whole thesis thing. You're both writing books, I'm so excited! Though I'd also be excited to hear you two talking, too!
@ljwrites I hope I'm writing a book! It's hard enough to be that, and I think the story could take that much space. Wanna hear about it? I can slide into your DMs if you've got time
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