HONG KONG — When China's top man dealing with integrating Hong Kong visited here last April, a dissident named Leung Kwok Hung burned tires in protest, leaving a big black smudge on the driveway of the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
The tall Chinese man with the long, black ponytail is frequently seen leading demonstrations from the Legislative Council building or picketing the fortress-like headquarters of the New China News Agency, China's de facto embassy here.
If anyone is marked down in some black book for arrest after the handover of British-ruled Hong Kong to China in July 1997, it would be Mr. Leung. Some say that the Chinese dislike him more than other, more-prominent Hong Kong critics of the Communist regime, such as the Democratic Party legislator Martin Lee.
But unlike Mr. Lee, Leung does not have much of an international profile. Lee sometimes jokes that he is losing weight to get used to prison life. In fact, it seems unlikely that Beijing would move against a person who hobnobs with people like Vice President Al Gore.
"I'm not well known. It will be different if they arrest me," Leung acknowledges, speaking from an office in a teeming part of Kowloon, the mainland portion of the British territory. His political views may work against him too. "I'm a left-wing activist; I don't think the international mass media will like me very much," he says.
Leung describes himself as a revolutionary Marxist - a Trotskyite, in particular. He leads an organization called the April 5 Movement (on that day in 1976 the first spontaneous protest against the Chinese regime took place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square). He advocates direct elections in China, workers' councils in factories, and "political rights for all Chinese."
It is one of the paradoxes of the transition that a person most at risk from the transfer of the British colony to "Red" China should be another Communist, albeit a heretical one from the point of view of leaders in Beijing who are more Stalin-like.
No one believes for a moment that any prominent capitalists would be persecuted. Many tycoons already serve on prominent committees and are frequently touted for high-profile government jobs after the "handover." .
It is by no means certain that Leung or any other critics will be at risk. The territory's post-1997 Basic Law, which Beijing promised to uphold, guarantees freedom of expression and assembly.
A major test will be what happens to organizations like the April 5 Movement and especially the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic and Democratic Movement in China, created to mobilize support for the students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Alliance's platform calls for an end to the one-party dictatorship in China and a formal accounting for hundreds killed during the Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989. Every year on that date it sponsors a memorial service. This year's ceremony brought thousands for a candlelight rally. It was the largest such assembly in recent years, presumably because many felt it might be the last one.
Ever since 1989, Beijing's leaders have fretted over Hong Kong becoming a haven for a democracy movement in China, which the Communist Party officially considers counterrevolutionary. Pro-Beijing newspapers here have labeled the Alliance seditious for its support for the demonstrators.
That is a serious charge. While the Basic Law guarantees basic freedoms, Article 23 allows the new government to enact laws prohibiting acts of treason and sedition against the government. Whether those laws will suppress only violent actions or whether they might be aimed at mere advocacy is still uncertain. It is also anticipated that the new government may also restore some not-so-old colonial decrees that were sparingly used by the British to control dissent.
The Alliance's governing council, on which Leung serves, is pondering ways to protect itself after 1997. "The majority ... hasn't decided exactly what we would do if we are arrested. They mainly say that we would fight in the courts. After that, it's not clear."
Unlike nearly 1 million of his fellow Hong Kong residents, Leung does not have the security of a foreign passport. Even so, he says he will continue to agitate for democracy in China even after the handover. "We won't disappear."