July 13, 2003


This month, the spark may have been lighted.

A half-million Hong Kong citizens protested on July 1 against a proposed bill that would bring communist-style suppression of dissent to the territory. Another protest was held on July 9 and then a third Sunday.

Many in the crowds sang "We Shall Overcome," first in Cantonese, then in English, a bilingualism that reflects Hong Kong's historic straddle between East and West.

As they did the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China's autocratic rulers are now trying to douse this latest display of people power before it spreads to the 1.2 billion Chinese workers and peasants - perhaps even to Tibet - or further pushes the people of Taiwan away from thoughts of eventual reunification with the mainland.

These marches for freedom have forced Hong Kong's already-unpopular chief executive, Tung Che Hwa, into political retreat. He first tried to water down the proposed security law; then he had to shelve it.

Most of all, he's lost the respect of people who thought he would keep China's promise that it would not meddle in Hong Kong's affairs for 50 years, under an arrangement called "one country, two systems."

Interesting times, as they say.