An internet meme comparing Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and politician Agnes Chow to Mulan made the rounds on social media on Wednesday, August 12.
The meme, which references a scene from the 2011 movie X-Men: First Class, suggests that Chow is the real Mulan—a legendary Chinese warrior that inspired two iterations of Disney movies. The release of the most recent Mulan film has been delayed four times due to COVID-19, though Disney announced that it would release the film on its streaming platform Disney Plus in September.
China historian Jeff Wasserstrom wrote on Twitter that the meme was being shared in several languages from a variety of locations. Wasserstrom said the image was initially posted by a Twitter page called Meme With Hong Kong.
The original tweet also called out Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei, who plays the titular character in the newest Disney reboot. In August 2019, Yifei expressed support for Hong Kong police in their crackdown against pro-democracy protesters, prompting fans to call for a boycott of the upcoming film.
The hashtag #freeagnes was also trending on Japanese Twitter on August 12 in response to Chow’s arrest.
Chow was detained along with several other high-profile pro-democracy activists, including media mogul Jimmy Lai on Monday, August 10. Hong Kong police said that nine people ages 23 to 72 were arrested on suspicion of breaching the new national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by China in late July.
Chow, a Japanese speaker, frequently conducts interviews with Japanese media and has galvanized support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement abroad.
Amal Sinha, an analyst for the New Delhi-based publication The Kootneeti, tweeted that nearly two-thirds of the tweets using the hashtag #freeagnes had originated from Japan.
According to Bloomberg, dozens of Japanese lawmakers expressed concern over Chow’s arrest.
Several Japanese celebrities, like actor Takeshi Tsuruno and sports writer Hirotada Ototake, also publicly denounced her arrest on Twitter.
Several leading Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including Nathan Law and Joshua Wong, tweeted in support of Chow in Japanese.
Chow and Lai were released on bail on August 12 after their arrests prompted widespread backlash.
In a statement on Facebook, Chow said that while she has been arrested four times for her political activism, her most recent arrest was the “most horrific one.”
“The road is tough, everyone be careful and take care,” Chow wrote.
Chow also posted to Facebook thanking all of her Japanese supporters.
Along with the arrest of several pro-democracy figures, Hong Kong police raided the offices of the Apple Daily newspaper on August 10. The event was live-streamed to Facebook by journalists at the paper.
A human rights lawyer told VICE News on August 11 that the recent high-profile arrests are aimed at silencing the city’s opposition voices.