A friend kindly gave me free tickets to Hong Kong Disneyland recently and a few of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at “the happiest place on Earth”. Curiously, the eponymous female protagonist from the Disney film Mulan isn’t prominently featured in what is currently China’s only Disney theme park.

The story of a woman who joined the army disguised as a man was first narrated in a poem written in the chaotic period of the Northern and Southern dynasties (AD420-589), and added to in later centuries, most recently by Disney. Mulan’s historicity is doubtful and, until more evidence is unearthed, she belongs in the realm of literature and legend.

Of even greater antiquity and historical certainty than Mulan was Fuhao, who died around 1200BC. A consort of the Shang dynasty king Wuding, her story has been pieced together using the inscriptions carved on oracle bones found in her tomb, discovered in 1976, and else where. She was possibly a high priestess of a tribe peripheral to the Shang kingdom who entered into a marital alliance with Wuding. According to the oracle inscriptions, Fuhao led armies into war with tribes surrounding the Shang kingdom, centred in presentday Henan province, and vanquished many of them, making her one of the ablest military commanders at the time. She was also repeatedly instructed by her husband to perform ceremonial offerings and human sacrifices, the most important state rituals of the Shang dynasty, reflecting how much Wuding trusted her.