Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, has been given a new nickname.
Her supporters have begun calling her “the real Mulan”
Chow was one of a handful of activists and media figures arrested this week under controversial new security legislation introduced by Beijing. She was arrested on a charge of “cooperating with foreign forces” – if convicted, she could face life in prison.
She has now been released on bail, but her arrest led to outcasts, with many tweeting the hashtag #FreeAgnes.
Mulan is an ancient Chinese legend, but became popular globally through the 1998 Disney animated film.
The story contains a young woman who disguises herself as a man so that she can fight to save her family and her country.
A remake of the film would be released this year, the title role played by the Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei.
But for much of last year, protesters in Hong Kong demanding democratic reforms took part in increasingly violent clashes with riot police, who were accused of using excessive force.
Pro-Beijing groups accused the protesters of attacking police and anti-protest Hong Kongers.
During an outburst of unrest, Liu shared a Weibo post from the government-run People’s Daily in Beijing that read in Chinese: “I also support the Hong Kong police. You can beat me now.”
Democratic protesters quickly began slapping Liu, accusing her of supporting police brutality.
The film soon became a political symbol – with Chinese citizens expressing their support for Liu and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters demanding a boycott.
Disney recently announced that Mulan would only have a limited movie release but will be streamed to its Disney + service instead, citing pandemic costs.
Many have begun to contrast Liu and Chow, saying that the activist was the real representation of a heroine who stood up to fight.
Memes then began to appear on social media.
“Agnes demonstrated what real bravery looks like,” said one Twitter user. “Agnes is my Mulan.”
“Agnes Chow should be the real Mulan. She’s much better than Liu [supports] Hong Kong police brutality. “She is brave and willing to … fight for freedom,” said another.
Chow – who is fluent in Japanese – also has a significant following in Japan, with some Japanese media referring to her as the “Goddess of Democracy”.
What do we know more about Agnes Chow?
Chow has been active in Hong Kong politics since a young age and joined a youth-led movement in just 15 years.
The movement protested against plans to conduct “moral and national education” in public schools. Students then feared that it would demonstrate the introduction of the type of heavily censored education used in mainland China.
They staged huge sit-ins and the plan was eventually vacated.
It was during these protests that she met the famous activist Joshua Wong.
Both continued to be key figures in the umbrella movement – a series of protests in 2014 that required the city to choose its own leader.
The protests were not successful – but created a whole new generation of young political leaders.
Chow, Wong and Nathan Law, another activist, founded the pro-democracy party Demosisto in 2016.
In 2018, Chow tried to run in local elections – she gave up her British citizenship to do so and postponed her university final.
But her nomination was rejected because officials said she supported “self-determination” for Hong Kong.
“The most important question was not whether I could participate in future elections, it was whether Hong Kong’s most fundamental rights and freedoms could be protected,” she said at the time, according to an SCMP report.
In 2019, massive protests erupted in Hong Kong, with many speaking out against an extradition proposal that would allow Hong Kong rulings to be tried in China.
In August of that year, Chow was arrested for allegedly participating in, and calling for, an unauthorized assembly at Hong Kong police headquarters earlier in June.
Other prominent pro-democracy figures including Joshua Wong and Andy Chan were also arrested.
She later pleaded guilty.
Since June 30 this year, the new security law kicked in.
Some political activists, such as Mr Law from the same party, chose to flee Hong Kong for fear of being imprisoned by Beijing.
Chow and Wong announced that they were withdrawing from Demosisto – which was later dissolved – but chose to stay in Hong Kong.
Earlier this week, Chow was arrested in a national security operation that saw other prominent people like media mogul Jimmy Lai arrested.
It was later revealed that Chow was arrested for “collaborating with foreign forces” under the new National Security Act.
“I would say that it is very clear that the regime and the government are using the national security law to suppress political dissidents,” he told reporters after being opposed.
Many had feared before the law was passed that it would be used to punish protesters and reduce the city’s autonomy.
Under the new law, it is illegal to employ hatred against China’s central government and Hong Kong’s regional government.
It criminalizes all acts of isolation, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces.
Chow later said in a statement on Facebook that her latest arrest had been the most “scary” to date.
“Arrested four times, this is the most frightening thing. But even at the police station, I can still hear from my lawyers the love and concern that everyone has for me,” she said.
“The road [ahead] is tough. Take care of yourselves.”