Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's attempts to personally canvass opinions and interact with ordinary people are becoming farcical. His weekend town hall meetings offer a microcosm of Hong Kong's political divide. There are those who turn up to disrupt the proceedings, then there are further disruptions as members of the opposing camp try to stop the original disrupters. (The disrupters of the disrupters are allegedly bussed in - by whom, you might wonder.) It's a carnival of voices but little is achieved except frayed nerves, exhilaration among those who think they've "done something" and pictures on Facebook. What the silent majority - if there is such a thing - make of it all is anybody's guess.

Given their exalted status, most Chinese emperors did not interact with commoners. Ensconced in their palaces and surrounded by minions, they depended on local officials such as provincial governors, garrison commanders and county magistrates to inform them about the state of the realm. Additionally, they regularly sent personal emissaries to the provinces. The few who actually toured the empire, including Emperor Yang (567-618), of the Sui dynasty, and the Qing dynasty's Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799), did so more for amusement than any desire to listen to the people. And anyway, how could they listen when commoners weren't even allowed to look at them?