After Mulan leaves her family in the night to join the army, her grandmother goes to the family shrine and asks the ancestors to keep Mulan safe. The ancestors then 'awaken,' assume ghostly figures, and discuss ways to protect Mulan. During one of our viewings of the film, my kids asked us, "What are ancestors?" Well, as a family historian, this was a proud moment for me; my kids wanted to know about ancestors! So, I simply told them that an ancestor was someone in your family who came before you did. Some of your ancestors may still be alive, like mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, while some of them died long ago.
A huge part of teaching young children about family history concepts starts with first teaching them vocabulary. 'Ancestor' is not a word they will pick up at day care or on the playground, so I thought it was just wonderful that this film sparked their curiosity and gave me the opportunity to talk with them about it, without them thinking I was actually trying to 'teach' them something (which usually ends in glazed-over eyes and the swift changing of subjects).
For Older Children: You can use this film to open up discussions about Chinese culture and traditions. Ancestor veneration has been a part of Far East culture for thousands of years, and it reflects a great respect and love that people have for those who have come before them. Google 'Chinese ancestor veneration,' and learn more about it with your child. Most major world religions have ways of remembering and commemorating their dead - look for similarities and differences between them. It's a great way to show kids that people, their beliefs, and their customs around the world are not really all that different from each other.
Also, your child(ren) may notice that Mulan is sometimes called 'Fa Mulan' in the film. This is a GREAT way to teach them that some Far East cultures place the family name (surname) before a person's given name, instead of placing the surname at the end like many Western-influenced cultures. Ask the child what his/her name would be if we followed traditional Chinese naming conventions ('Smith John' instead of 'John Smith').
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder. All rights reserved.