Going as Mulan for Halloween - An Asian American's Opinion

Disclosure: Affiliate links are used in this post. You can read my full disclosure here

Disney now has two Mulan movies, which means there are going to be kids who want to dress up as Mulan for Halloween. Many of these kids are not going to be of Chinese descent, which brings up the question:  

Can my non-Asian child go as Mulan for Halloween? 

Being half-Chinese, I have had others ask me for my thoughts, and have shared in private, but hesitated to make a post before because I thought being born in America, I do not have as much say as someone who was born and raised in China, and maybe I don't, but here are my thoughts as an Asian American:

In my opinion, YES! You and or your child can dress up as Mulan for Halloween, BUT make sure the costume is recognizable as the character, so buying an approved Disney costume (like the ones pictured below) is your best bet, but you can handmake your own too. There are plenty of amazing Disney cosplayers who do a great job. It's just important your costume is recognizable as Mulan, otherwise it crosses into cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation, according to Oxford is:  

"The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."

Wearing a hanfu, qipao, or cheongsam on Halloween is inappropriate. Being Chinese is not a costume. It is even worse when traditional Chinese attire is made "sexy" as Fawnia Soo-Hoo says perfectly:

"My big beef with the sexed up version of a qipao is that it perpetuates the stereotype that Chinese women are "exotic," subservient sluts. " - Fawnia Soo-Hoo (source)

The "sexy" versions are NEVER okay. It is disrespectful and distasteful, and it contributes to Yellow Fever

Now if you want to wear a qipao or cheongsam, I feel that is totally fine, just not on Halloween and not as a costume.

Also wearing any Asian-inspired outfit and claiming you are Mulan is not okay either. For one, others will not recognize the outfit as being Mulan's, so though you may not have bad intentions, others will see you as dressing up as Asian for Halloween rather than a specific character, and that can be offensive. Secondly, it's as if you are saying all Asians are like Mulan, which is offensive. 

It would be the same as if someone took Native American traditional clothing, put it on, and said they were Pocahontas. It does not work that way. Please make sure your costume truly resembles the character you wish to portray.

Here are some costumes that are easily recognizable as Mulan if you need an example of what would be appropriate to wear for Halloween:

So if not Halloween, you might be wondering: 

When can I wear Chinese cultural attire? Is it okay for a non-Chinese person to wear traditional Chinese outfits? 

I personally do not believe you have to be Chinese to wear a hanfu, cheongsam, qipao, etc. You can wear them on any Chinese holiday or to any formal event such as a wedding or a banquet, or more casual or inspired attire could even be worn to work or a social gathering. 

For example, Rachel Green in Friends wears a beautiful black floral cheongsam to her friend, Pheobe Buffay's, elegant bachelorette party:

Rachel also wore a black Chinese-inspired dress as a casual everyday dress in the season 2 episode 11:

I use Friends as a reference because I have seen each episode at least a dozen times and Rachel's Asian inspired outfits definitely stood out to me, and she wore them appropriately, so she is a great example of when you can wear traditional Chinese clothing without it crossing into cultural appropriation. 

There was also the case of the teen who wore a qipao to prom. The issue I have in her case was the posed photo she took, where they are squatting and have their hands in a praying position. It's as if they are mocking the culture. I could have seen it as appreciation, but the moment she took that photo, they crossed over into appropriation. 

Lulu and YaYa discuss this incident in the second episode of their podcast: Asian Girl In A Western World, and admit they would be uncomfortable seeing a white person wearing their cultural attire. They also noted she was wearing it wrong as it would be traditionally worn with pants or stockings. I agree that I would be uncomfortable seeing someone else in my culture's apparel at an American event, but I'm not sure I would consider it cultural appropriation. 

Now, this is just one Asian American's opinion. I know there are others who would say if you aren't of that culture, you can't ever wear that attire, but personally, I feel this is taking it too far. There is nothing wrong with admiring and wanting to dress in another culture's clothing, but if you think you can only wear it as a costume on Halloween, then that's the problem.

Mulan is okay for Halloween because she is a fictional character and she has very distinct outfits. As long as it is obvious that you or your child is dressed as Mulan, then go for it! But dressing up in a qipao, cheongsam, hanfu, etc., that does not resemble Mulan at all and saying you are "Mulan" or worse claiming you are "Chinese" for Halloween, is not okay.

Race and cultures are not costumes. You can pretend to be Mulan. You can't pretend to be Chinese.