Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, has a new nickname.
Her supporters began to call her “the real Mulan” – in reference to the legendary Chinese heroine who fought to save her family and her country.
Ms Chow was among the few activists and media figures arrested this week under a controversial new security law imposed by Beijing. She was detained for “collusion with foreign forces” – if found guilty, she could face life in prison.
She has now been released on bail, but her arrest sparked a surge of support, with many tweeting the hashtag #FreeAgnes.
Mulan is an ancient Chinese legend, but became popular around the world thanks to the 1998 Disney animated film.
The story features a young woman who disguises herself as a man so that she can fight to save her family and her country.
A live-action remake of the film was due out this year, starring Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei.
But for much of the past year, protesters in Hong Kong calling for democratic reforms have engaged in increasingly violent clashes with riot police accused of using excessive force.
Pro-Beijing groups accused the protesters of attacking police and anti-protesters in Hong Kong.
During a flurry of unrest, Ms. Liu shared a Weibo message from the Beijing government newspaper People’s Daily which read, in Chinese, “I also support the Hong Kong police. You can beat me now. ”
Pro-democracy protesters quickly began to criticize Ms. Liu, accusing her of supporting police brutality.
The film quickly became a political symbol – with Chinese citizens expressing support for Ms. Liu and pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong calling for a boycott.
Disney recently announced that Mulan will only have a limited movie release but will air on its Disney + service instead, citing pandemic costs.
Many began to pit Ms. Liu and Ms. Chow against each other – claiming the activist was the true portrayal of a heroine who stood up to fight.
The memes then started appearing on social media.
“Agnes demonstrated what real bravery looks like,” one user said on Twitter. “Agnes is my Mulan. ”
“Agnes Chow should be the real Mulan. She is much better than Liu who [supports] Hong Kong police brutality. She is courageous and ready to… fight for freedom, ”said another.
Ms. Chow – who is fluent in Japanese – also has a large following in Japan, with some Japanese media calling her the “goddess of democracy”.
What else do we know about Agnes Chow?
Ms. Chow has been active in Hong Kong politics from a young age, joining a youth-led movement at just 15.
The movement protested against plans to implement “moral and national education” in public schools. Students feared then that this signaled the introduction of the type of heavily censored education used in mainland China.
They staged a huge sit-ins and the plan was ultimately shelved.
It was during these protests that she met well-known activist Joshua Wong.
Both have become key figures in the Umbrella movement – a series of protests in 2014 that demanded the city to choose its own leader.
The protests were unsuccessful – but created a whole new generation of young political leaders.
Ms Chow, Mr Wong and Nathan Law, another activist, went on to found the pro-democracy Demosisto party in 2016.
In 2018 Ms Chow tried to run for local office – she renounced her UK citizenship to do so and postponed her college finals.
But her nomination was rejected because officials said she supported “self-determination” for Hong Kong.
“The most important question was not whether I could run for the next election, it was whether the most basic rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people could be protected,” she said at the time, according to a report from SCMP.
In 2019, massive protests erupted in Hong Kong, and many spoke out against an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong suspects to stand trial in mainland China.
In August of the same year, Ms. Chow was arrested for allegedly participating in and inciting an unauthorized rally at the Hong Kong Police Headquarters earlier in June.
Other prominent pro-democracy figures, including Joshua Wong and Andy Chan, have also been arrested.
She subsequently pleaded guilty.
Then, on June 30 of this year, the new security law came into effect.
Some political activists, like Mr. Law of the same party, have chosen to flee Hong Kong for fear of being imprisoned by Beijing.
Ms Chow and Mr Wong announced they were pulling out of Demosisto – which was later disbanded – but chose to stay in Hong Kong.
Earlier this week, Ms Chow was arrested during a national security operation in which other figures such as media mogul Jimmy Lai were arrested.
It was later revealed that Ms Chow had been arrested for “colluding with foreign forces” under the new National Security Act.
“I would say it is very obvious that the regime and the government are using the national security law to crack down on political dissidents,” told reporters after being released on bail.
Many feared before the law was passed that it would be used to punish protesters and reduce the city’s autonomy.
Under the new law, inciting hatred against the Chinese central government and the Hong Kong regional government is illegal.
It criminalizes any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces.
Ms Chow later said in a statement on Facebook that her latest arrest was the most “terrifying” to date.
“Arrested four times, it’s the most terrifying. But even at the police station, I can still hear from my lawyers the love and concern everyone has for me, ”she said.
” The road [ahead] is difficult. Take care of yourself. “