If you have been watching the Hong Kong pro-democracy rallies on Youtube, you could not have escaped the gravitational pull. None of the 130,000 Filipino domestic workers there have figured in any incident, but it is the biggest story of its kind in the world, and it isn’t normal that it has been completely ignored by the gossipy Filipino community and the irrepressible Philippine press.

Fourteen weeks have passed since the protests erupted.  Violent clashes with the police have resulted in deaths and arrests, but nothing like the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 has occurred. At one point, two million mostly young people took to the streets, twice the number that drove Deng Xiaoping 30 years ago to declare martial law and send 300,000 troops to Beijing and so many other rebellious cities.

What began in June as a protest against an extradition bill which would allow the Chinese government to extradite a Hong Kong criminal suspect to the mainland, had morphed into a general protest against China’s way of administering Hong Kong as an autonomous region. 

After weeks of violent clashes, the government banned the rallies, but the marchers remained defiant. The government suspended the bill, but it had little effect on the protesters.

The British and the Americans were suspected of manipulating the protests. There was no proof of this, except that history seemed to support it. In 1842, Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain after the Qing dynasty lost the first Opium War, thereby turning it into a colony of the British empire. Over the years Britain turned Hong Kong into a modern investments, financial and cosmopolitan center. In 1997, pursuant to the original agreement, Britain handed over the crown colony to China as a semi-autonomous administrative region under “One country, two systems.”

The agreement provided for a high degree of autonomy, including retention of the capitalist system, an independent judiciary and the rule of law, free trade, a free press and free speech. Hong Kong will fully revert to China after 50 years. But the first generation of Hong Kongers born in the “One country, two systems” has begun to feel the weight of China’s control over their lives even before 2047. 

On the 11th weekend of the protests, an estimated 1.7 million demonstrators carrying  multicolored umbrellas under heavy rain spilled over Victoria Park. Troops from the People’s Armed Police had poured into Shenzen, Guangdong Province, and threatened military intervention in Hong Kong. But in the end, the use of massive force was suppressed. The orders reportedly came direct from Beijing. So no tear gas or rubber bullets were used, the police did not attack the protesters, and vice versa.

What happened? An article in Nikkei Asian Review by senior staff writer Katsuji Nakazawa attributed this avoidance of violence to the personal intervention by 91-year-old Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest citizen and one of the world’s richest men. Li ran a full-page ad on the front page of Hong Kong’s major newspapers calling for an end to the mayhem. It was signed “by a Hong Kong citizen, Li Ka-shing.”

“The melon of Huangtai cannot endure further picking,” said Li’s one-liner, quoting from a Tang dynasty poem. The poem is supposed to picture the brutality of Empress Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, who ruled from 690 to 705. She had her sons, crown princes all, killed, one after another. Crown Prince Li Xian is said to have written the poem before he was forced to kill himself by his mother. The “melon” is a metaphor for the crown princes; in Li’s ad it is now a metaphor for Hong Kong.

The call to end the violence was addressed to no one in particular. Not to the Hong Kong police nor to the demonstrators nor to President Xi himself. It was purposely vague. But because of it the government and the police ordered their troops to desist from using violence. On the succeeding weeks the protesters and the police took to the streets again, but with considerably lesser violence.

Even US President Trump called on Xi to meet with the “leaders” of the “leaderless” movement. Inspired by Li Ka-shing’s example, many seemed to look forward to some deus ex machina finally manifesting itself. Then on Wednesday, Sept. 4, Carrie Lam, the embattled Hong Kong chief executive, who had absorbed so much of the political heat for months, announced the wretched extradition bill has been withdrawn—-killed. It’s time to pause.

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