Disclaimer: I do not own Disney's Mulan or any of its various characters, plotlines, etc. Zhang is an original character, but Disney can have him, too, if it really wants.
Part I: Cause
Fa Mulan: Heroine or Hussy?
It was a good beginning. Shun Wei-Zhang brushed excess ink off of his brush and titled his first scroll, satisfied that he before he was through, he would give anyone who wanted to know an up-close and personal glimpse of the woman who had saved all of China. He had taken great care to the gather his sources from trustworthy spectators, many firsthand observers of Fa Mulan's life and military career. He himself was an accomplished and learned writer. With any amount of luck, he would be able to put forth a definitive biography.
Despite owing its continued existence to Fa Mulan, China really knew very little about her. Quite a few people had seen her, but only briefly: some had caught a glimpse of her fighting Shan-Yu on the rooftop, and others had seen her sliding down a rope strung with lanterns. Several thousand had bowed to her, to be sure, but as they were looking down at the ground at the time, this wasn't much help.
Discussions about what the impetuous young heroine had actually done were spreading over China like...like...what would be a good simile? Zhang bit his lip. Wildfire? No. A flood? Definitely not. A plague, maybe?
Anyway, he concluded, discussions raged about the nature of her deed. Was she truly filial, to have taken her father's place in so un-traditional a station? Was she a genius, or just lucky? Could she really fight, or was she a mere trickster? Had her success really come from herself, or did she owe it all to adoring swains in the Imperial Army? Zhang knew of at least one rumor that pegged her character at the third option. One of the soldiers in her regiment had let it slip while drunk, something about her standing up naked in the middle of the lake and announcing herself "Queen of the Rock," followed by her biting one of the bathing soldiers on the behind and then complaining about the nasty flavor. But even Zhang admitted that that one probably had little truth to it.
No, the various accounts he had gleaned from eyewitnesses were much more accurate than that.
Zhang rubbed his eyes as he pored over this source for the fifth time. It was his most recent finding, a transcript of an interview with one of the soldiers from the Wu Zhong camp. The soldier had had a slightly vacant expression, but what did that matter? No doubt his memory was sharper than the rest of his brain...
"I didn't talk to him much after the first day," the soldier said with a gap-toothed grin, "because not a lot of us wanted to speak to him. He spilled the rice and got us all in a fight."
"Her," reminded Zhang.
The soldier nodded enthusiastically. "Right. Her."
As a footnote, Zhang had written, She shows an inability to get along with comrades.
"Anyway, the first day. Well, Yao had just finished punching me." His vapid grin disappeared for a second. "I paid a lot of money for that dragon tattoo, and where did it get me? Nowhere!"
"And then?" Zhang had prompted irritably.
"So then, he—"
"So then, what did she do?"
"Yeah, she, sorry about that. Right then, she slapped Yao's butt to make friends."
Must resort to groping recruits in order to socialize, was Zhang's next note.
"And then he said something about food, and then he punched him—"
"Mulan punched herself?"
"No, he punched Yao, who punched back—"
"Yao punched Mulan?"
"No, Yao punched Ling."
"But you said—"
"And then he grabbed his foot—"
"Mulan grabbed Ling's foot?"
"No, Yao grabbed his foot, but then he kicked him into the other guy—"
"What other guy?"
"And then he started to punch him, and Yao too, and then he said, 'You're dead!' and then they all went running after him."
"Yeah, that's what I said. Can I go now? I just bought this good-luck talisman to ward off evil, and I haven't gotten a chance to test—"
The man hadn't been able to finish, as he was suddenly accosted by three armed robbers.
It was probably a good thing, in retrospect—Zhang had been about to gag Tattoo Man and force him to listen to an hour-long lecture on ambiguous pronouns. Instead, Zhang had fled the scene, but it had been worth the hassle. He had added the interview to his growing stockpile of information, and looking over it now, he felt that it complemented another bit of insight into the heroine of China...
"I am glad that my sister has found a successful match," said Zhang, bowing to the Matchmaker. "As her only guardian, I have been hard-pressed to take care of her."
"Young women are always a burden to their families until they are married off," said the Matchmaker. "I completely understand. Why, a good friend of mine just told me about an awful candidate who practically burned down her house!"
Zhang's eyes widened. "Was it really that bad?"
"Oh, yes!" The Matchmaker's voice had softened to a whisper. "It was Fa Mulan, you know."
There was an intake of breath.
"Madam," said Zhang reverently, "if you can tell me all you know, I shall reward you handsomely."
"Oh!" The Matchmaker looked pleased. "It's no trouble. Tzi Wu told me that Mulan wasn't doing well on her test, and that in revenge, Mulan put a cricket down her Matchmaker's dress, then shoved her onto blazing hot coals. She was brutal even before the war, I tell you. She then fanned the flames in an attempt to spread the fire."
Zhang tugged on his beard thoughtfully. "If I recall correctly, she also managed to ignite a significant portion of the Emperor's palace."
The Matchmaker gasped. "Could there be a connection?"
Zhang's eyes narrowed in concentration. "We shall see. She certainly has a strong destructive capacity..."
The scribe shook his head at the memory. Women were such gossips; they'd spill their hearts and souls to get men to listen to them, even blurting out scandalous things in public. Ah, well, so much the better for his project. As he finished grinding his ink stick against the well, Zhang looked over his best and most prestigious source of knowledge...
"Destructive capacity? I'll say," said the Emperor's consul with a voice that dripped disdain. "Did you know that in her first battle, she gave away our position and then set the cannon wagon on fire? Then, she ran away from it without helping at all!"
Zhang's brow wrinkled. "But what about the cannon at the Tung Shao Pass?" he inquired.
Chi Fu waved his spindly hand dismissively. "Luck," he said. "The captain's orders were to aim the cannon at Shan Yu. That idiot girl tried to aim for the villain...he was three feet away, from what I hear...and missed by several yards, even so!"
"From what you hear?" Zhang was puzzled. "Weren't you there?"
"My vision was... obscured by a rather large outcropping at the time." Chi Fu fidgeted. "Anyway, surely you are not here to chronicle my bravery. You must surely praise her to the skies!"
"We'll see about that," said Zhang firmly. "What else can you tell me about her?"
"That captain, Li Shang, obviously was soft on her because of her gender. Otherwise, he would never have let her live. It is not a good policy for a commanding officer to bring in his mistress to camp, but unfortunately, Captain Li has not had the experience befitting one of his rank. His appointment, I am sorry to say, was merely due to the General's nepotism. Still, his conduct is not to be wondered at. That Fa girl was certainly flaunting her charms for all they were worth...hoping to get a match, I daresay."
"Were her charms noticeable as Ping, then?"
"Do you think I noticed?" squeaked the toady, looking stricken. "I, thankfully, am above such temptations. Besides, I don't have to ogle her—I can have any woman I want!" He flexed his stringy biceps and smiled greasily.
Zhang let this last statement pass without comment.
"I think, between these and a few other snippets, I have enough material," said the scribe in satisfaction. "The rumors about Mulan and the captain are particularly...marketable." He dipped his brush once more. His research had been thorough and varied; the biography would not take long to complete.