They come to shop, eat, call on relatives and, if time permits, to see the sights. That, if media reports are to be believed, is the sum of mainlanders' experiences of Hong Kong. But the city meant much more to a very special visitor from across the border 120 years ago. When Guangdong resident Sun Yat-sen moved to Hong Kong in 1883, he felt he had much to learn from the British colony. What he took home, however, had little to do with his 10 years as a student at Queen's College and at the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese (now the University of Hong Kong's faculty of medicine). In explaining where and how he developed his revolutionary and modern ideas that would see him overthrow the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and change the course of China's history, the founder of the Republic of China said in a 1923 speech: 'I got [them] in the colony of Hong Kong.' The city 'impressed' him a great deal, he said, 'because there was an orderly calm'. In his talk at the University of Hong Kong, he lamented that when he returned home to Xiangshan (later renamed Zhongshan in his honour), 'there was disorder instead of order, insecurity instead of security'. Sun stressed he was taken by the fact that 'Englishmen could do such things with the barren rock of Hong Kong within 70 or 80 years, while China, in 4,000 years, had no place like Hong Kong'. Apparently he even called on university students to 'carry this English example of good governance to every [political] party of China'. It may be wishful thinking to draw parallels between the way in which Hong Kong influenced Sun and the effect the city is having on mainland travellers here. But, some believe, the Special Administrative Region, with its rule of law, transparency of public administration and strong civic consciousness, among other things, will effect a subtle and positive change in the thinking, behaviour and political culture of mainland visitors, especially now many do not have to travel in groups. Since July 29 it has been more convenient for mainlanders to visit Hong Kong because of the introduction of the individual travel scheme. Beginning with the Guangdong residents of Dongguan, Foshan, Jiangmen and Zhongshan, the relaxation of restrictions was extended last month to travellers from Beijing and Shanghai. Since July, about 330,000 people have been granted individual travel permits, although only 190,000 have come to Hong Kong so far, including the 70,000-plus during Golden Week, which ends today. Chan Kin-man, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Chinese University, believes mainlanders' knowledge of what he calls Hong Kong's 'software' will facilitate social progress in the long run. 'Individual travellers are generally younger and better educated than those joining tour groups,' he said. These travellers, who do not have to follow a tour schedule, will, he said, 'be impressed by the order in Hong Kong and its atmosphere of freedom'. The academic added that while Hong Kong's popular culture has had a significant impact on the mainland's southern provinces since the nation opened to the world in the early 1980s, the easing of movement will allow many more people to witness what it is that has made Hong Kong a success. Mr Chan, who has spent time with mainland academics visiting the Chinese University of Hong Kong on exchange programmes, said many experienced a culture shock. 'They were impressed by the vibrant media in Hong Kong, which are often critical of the government,' he said, adding that the mainland press is usually muted in its critique of authority. 'A mainland academic even told me after his brief visit to Hong Kong that it was the first time in his life he felt he'd set foot on free land.' Guangzhou resident Zhu Xiaolun was also moved by what he saw in the SAR. Visiting with his wife and daughter in August, he said he went away from his seven-day trip with a favourable impression of Hongkongers and their law-abiding culture. 'In Hong Kong people queue up voluntarily for buses and trains,' he said. 'In mainland cities, people rush to get on even when a bus is empty.' Mr Zhu, an associate professor in the department of English at the private Guangdong Hualian University, said he hardly saw anyone littering the streets here, compared with Guangzhou, 'where these things happen every 30 seconds'. He added: 'When I stayed in Hong Kong I noticed that at least eight out of 10 people crossed the road in accordance with traffic lights.' Perhaps just as effective in influencing mainlanders' attitudes are some of the books sold in Hong Kong that are banned across the border. Among them are The Private Life Of Chairman Mao, by the Great Helmsman's doctor Li Zhisui, who revealed intimate details about the leader's sex life, and the Communist Party-critical works of Li Shenzhi, a reformist intellectual and official who died several months ago. There's also Zhou Enlai's Later Years, about the hidden power struggle between the late premier and Mao. Written by former researcher Gao Wenqian, the book has been popular among mainland visitors here since it hit the shelves early this year, according to the proprietor of Luck-Win Book Store in Mongkok who declined to be named. At that shop, mainlanders make up 70 per cent of purchasers of the tome, which has sold tens of thousands of copies in Hong Kong and overseas. Wong Sheung-wai, the proprietor of the Greenfield Book Store in Mongkok, said mainlanders, in particular officials and academics, make up the bulk of buyers of books that focus on politics over the border. 'Some mainland buyers read the books in our shop as quickly as they can because they fear buying them and having their copies confiscated by mainland customs officials when they go home,' he said. Mr Wong added there had been no marked recent increase in the purchase of sensitive titles by mainlanders and added the phenomenon started many years ago and is not simply the result of the individual travel scheme. Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-shiu, however, warned against overestimating Hong Kong's impact on the mainland's transformation. 'I'm worried that political education introduced on the mainland by authorities will offset the positive impact from Hong Kong's political culture on mainland travellers,' he said. Equally cautious is Professor Shi Yinhong of the school of international studies at People's University in Beijing, who while acknowledging that mainlanders' first-hand experiences of Hong Kong would influence their behaviour, questioned whether they would effect real change. 'I think the impact of the individual travel scheme on the socio-political transformation on the mainland is limited,' he said, adding that we shouldn't expect mainlanders to change their mindset after they had spent only one or two days in Hong Kong. 'It is going too far to suggest that the scheme would speed up political participation or democratisation on the mainland.' However, Mr Zhu said he was determined to emulate some of the behaviour he observed in Hong Kong. 'I have been depositing cigarette ends on the street and littering less frequently since I returned from my trip,' he said, adding that he was also making an effort to observe traffic signals. 'Now I cross the road according to the lights,' he said. Every time? 'Well, as far as possible.'