“She left the house and met her messmates on the road;
Her messmates were startled out of their wits.
They had marched with her for twelve years of war
And never known that Mulan was a girl.
Thus, Mulan fought as a man, not as a woman. Her fellow soldiers had no idea that she was a woman. This is not so strange as you may think. Indeed, it is a common trope in Chinese popular literature for a woman to assume the guise of a man in order to accomplish feats that her natural gender would have denied her, such as standing in as a conscripted soldier for her ailing or elderly father. Even more interesting, women were not permitted to take the examinations to become scholars or officials, so some girls disguised themselves as men to study the classics and sit for the civil service exams. There are quite a few funny scenes where the male fellow students of a girl disguised as one of them are perplexed by her toilet habits. Naturally, there are also many touching love stories that develop out of such situations, but only after many years of gender ruse and “they triumphs“. . . . ”