There are a thousand Mulan in a thousand people's eyes.
A traditional heroine in China, Mulan was first documented 1,500 years ago in a poem during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581). As the only child of an aging war veteran, she defied the convention and laws that women cannot be soldiers, and disguised herself as a man to join the army in lieu of her feeble father.
The story of Mulan has since been told by generations in different forms. The latest is Disney's live-action film, which was scheduled to be released on Friday.
But Ye Luying, who teaches illustration at China Academy of Art, tries to show a different Mulan, one that is not so extraordinary as a military hero but as common as a girl next door, in her upcoming picture book-Mulan-published on Aug 26.
"Mulan's life path is that of a small town girl setting off into the world, which is very similar to the experiences of some women in contemporary society. It is also a drive for me to draw this book," says Ye, who has published five picture books since 2013 and won the best illustration of the China Animation& Comic Golden Dragon Award in 2016.
The 28-year-old says young and capable women with strong characters will identify themselves with Mulan in her book. "They come to big cities from small towns to pursue their dreams, realize their goals, and improve their family situations. They are just like Mulan," says Ye.
The idea of reinterpreting traditional culture came to Ye in her exchange study at Oslo National Academy of the Arts in 2016, when she often found herself missing home and sharing Chinese history and culture with foreign friends.
"There are many wonderful stories in Chinese culture, so I thought maybe I could do something, like drawing a picture book," Ye says.
Ye's artistic creation of Mulan came first in 2018, when she used the face of Mulan in Cantonese Opera as the design of the souvenir sheet for United Nations Postal Administration as the featured stamp of the 35th Asian International Stamp Exhibition.
In her research on Mulan for the picture book, Ye found writers in different era have their own interpretation of Mulan.
The research inspired Ye to further explore not only in the traditional way of storytelling but also re-imagine in a more modern way that relates to contemporary people.
In her version of the story, Ye puts more emphasis on the homecoming of Mulan.
"In my eyes, the most important thing is not that Mulan is brave enough to go to the battlefield, but that after so many experiences, she still chooses to return to her hometown. The emperor gives Mulan plenty of treasures, but she doesn't want them, and the most precious thing for her is still her sister, father and mother. That touches me deeply," Ye says.
In the book, Ye has drawn two rabbits and one phoenix as Mulan's companions. Ye says the phoenix symbolizes the power of woman, and the rabbits are a metaphor for the feeling of homesick.
During her drawing of the book, Ye says the more she studies the ancient story, the more Mulan relates to her.
"Mulan now lives in my heart, and I hope in the hearts of people who like her. Every simple, kind and resolute soul is Mulan," she says.
Li Hong contributed to this story.