Picture: 123RF/Evgenii Komissarov
Picture: 123RF/Evgenii Komissarov

Hong Kong has spoken with the voice of an angry dragon.

After months of pro-democracy protests that have rattled Beijing, activists briefly suspended demonstrations last week so as not to disrupt local elections.

If elections are a yardstick of popular feeling, this weekend was a humdinger: 2.94-million people — about 71% of the electorate — turned out to vote, and gave democratic candidates 390 seats in the 452-seat assembly.

Now, in most countries that truly revere democracy, a 90% poll would, on the part of the loser, be cause for stern self-reflection and perhaps even a tearful abdication. Of course, Hong Kong and China are not "most" countries. The rest of the world is holding its breath while the Hong Kong government — and by extension, Beijing — processes this most profound rebuke of its authority.

State news agency Xinhua said the poll was skewed by "rioters", in the same way the National Party used to blame township protests on "agitators" (please ignore the Casspirs and pump-action shotguns).

In April 1989, a few hundred students marched to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to mourn the death of reformist politician Hu Yaobang. The march turned into a hunger strike, which became a rally that brought 1.2-million people to the square. On May 19, the government imposed martial law. At 1am on June 4 Chinese troops began firing on the demonstrators. A man, holding two shopping bags, blocked the path of a tank squadron and became one of the defining images of the age.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people were killed and thousands more detained; mention of the protests is still censored.

The question, then, is this: is it now Hong Kong’s turn to look down the barrel of a Type 99 main battle tank?