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Illustrator's picture book depicts legendary Mulan

Updated: Dec 23, 2020 Women of China Print
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Illustrator's Picture Book Depicts Legendary Mulan

Ye Luying presents an illustration drawn by her. [Provided to Women of China]

Artist's Bio

Ye Luying, an independent illustrator and author of picture books, is a teacher with China Academy of Art (CAA), in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang province. Ye, who graduated with a master's degree from CAA, won a gold award for best illustration — for her picture book, Luo Shen Fu — during the 13th China Animation and Comic Competition Golden Dragon Award. That event was held in 2016. Ye recalled how she had created Luo Shen Fu during China Central Television's renowned program, National Treasure. She has drawn other picture books that have highlighted China's classic literature and art works.

There are a thousand ways to interpret and understand Mulan — through a thousand people's eyes. Mulan, a heroine in China, was first documented 1,500 years ago, in a poem during the Southern and Northern dynasties (420-589). Mulan, the daughter of an aging war veteran, defied convention and the laws that women cannot be recruited into the army. To get around those barriers, Mulan disguised herself as a man to enlist in the army in place of her aging and feeble father. The legendary story of Mulan has been told from generation to generation — in various forms, including in the film produced by Disney that was released worldwide earlier this year.

Ye, who teaches illustration at CAA, has depicted the story of Mulan in her latest picture book. That book was published on August 26. "Mulan's life path is that of a girl from a small town, who set off on a journey to see the world, which is somehow similar to the experiences of some women in contemporary society. This was the drive for me to draw this book," says Ye, who has had five picture books published since 2013.

Ye believes young, capable women with strong characters can "identify" with the images of Mulan depicted in her book. "Those women have come to big cities, from small towns, to pursue dreams, realize goals, and/or improve their families' situations. They are just like Mulan," says Ye.

The idea of reinterpreting traditional Chinese culture through contemporary art forms came to Ye in 2016, while she was studying at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, in Norway. At that time, she often missed her home country, and she liked to share Chinese history and culture with her friends from other countries. "There are many wonderful stories in Chinese culture. I thought maybe I could do something, for instance, drawing a picture book," Ye recalls.

Ye's artistic creation of Mulan began in 2018, when she drew a portrait of Mulan in Cantonese Opera as the design of a souvenir sheet for the United Nations Postal Administration, and as a featured stamp of the 35th Asian International Stamp Exhibition.

While she was reading historical documents and references about Mulan, Ye discovered that writers in different regions had different interpretations of Mulan. Research inspired Ye to not only study traditional ways of telling the legendary story about Mulan; Ye also explored and tried to present Mulan's character traits — in a way that readers in contemporary society found Mulan could be a woman who stayed closer to their lives.

"In my eyes, the most important thing about Mulan is not only that the young woman was brave enough to go onto the battlefield, but the fact that after so many experiences, she still chose to return to her hometown. The emperor vowed to give Mulan plenty of treasures, but she didn't want them. The most precious treasure for her was her sister, father and mother. That has touched me deeply," Ye explains.

In her picture book, Ye drew two rabbits and one phoenix as Mulan's companions. Ye says the phoenix symbolizes the power of a woman, and the rabbits are a metaphor for the feeling of homesickness. "Mulan now lives vividly in my heart. I hope in the hearts of people who like her, the simple, kind and resolute spirit will make them think of Mulan," Ye concludes.

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