The future of China could depend on a bunch of kids, some of them so young they need their parents’ permission to stay out late to demonstrate.
If the pro-democracy protesters now blocking the streets of Hong Kong end up winning their demand for a more open electoral system, they will have forced the Chinese Communist Party to back down – an achievement nobody else has managed since the 1949 revolution put Mao Zedong in power.
And they will have done so, on current form, by being the sweetest, politest, and least threatening mass mobilization on record.
Walking through the young people camped out Wednesday on Harcourt Road in central Hong Kong I came across high school girls doing their homework on their knees, a young woman spraying the air with perfumed water, a work team sorting recyclables from other garbage, and countless young couples pushing their babies in strollers.
Not a burned car, nor a smashed shop window in sight. And no policemen either.
There may be no leaders to this “umbrella revolution” – as the movement has been dubbed for the umbrellas demonstrators used over the weekend to protect themselves from tear gas fired by riot police. But the level of self-discipline and cooperative organization these young people are showing is remarkable.
The Hong Kong government has branded the street occupation illegal and so it is. All public gatherings of more than 50 people here need advance approval from the police. That was not forthcoming for “Occupy Central," as the ongoing protests that have gripped Hong Kong are called.
But for an unlawful gathering it feels awfully law-abiding. The students’ most prominent leader, Joshua Wong – who is only 17 – hoped Wednesday it would stay that way. “We hope students will keep safe and still rely on the principle of non-violence,” he said. “And we hope more of their friends and family members will join them.”
That way, perhaps, parents can make absolutely sure their children are doing their homework.