Last month, the Electoral Affairs Commission invalidated the nominations of several candidates for next Sunday’s Legislative Council elections because of their advocacy of Hong Kong’s independence from China.

The disqualified candidates, as well as politicians and commentators of all colours and shades, honed in on Article 1 of the Basic Law: “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.” Some say this is the elemental principle of the city’s mini-constitution and its relationship with mainland China; others say constitutions and their contents are not sacrosanct and immutable – they’re under no obligation to be bound by what they don’t agree with and had no part in drafting.

Hong Kong justice secretary defends decision to bar localist from Legco polls

China’s first modern constitution was promulgated on August 27, 1908 by Empress Dowager Cixi in the name of Emperor Guangxu. The purported intent of the Outline of the Constitution Compiled by Imperial Order, modelled after Japan’s Meiji constitution, was to transform China into a constitutional monarchy, but most of the Chinese emperor’s absolute powers were retained, with some concessions made for democratic politics.

Wuchang Uprising anniversary: the revolt that ended China’s monarchy

As if to remind the people who’s boss, the first article reads: “The Great Qing Emperor rules the Great Qing Empire, for ten thousand generations, and must be revered for all eternity.”

But lofty words could not dam the tide of revolution and a mere 3½ years later, the Great Qing Emperor, Xuantong (Aisin Gioro Puyi), was forced to abdicate, ending China’s two-millennia-old imperial system of government.