Last month’s farcical dénouement to Hong Kong’s 20-month effort at reforming its electoral system underscores the irredeemable dysfunction in the city’s political climate. Between the Beijing lackeys who wag their tails to their master’s voice and the kids playing silly games with umbrellas (and adults who egg them on), while those who genuinely want to get things done are sidelined or silenced, it’s no wonder there’s so much discontent in the city. Meanwhile, rich Hongkongers who don’t already have one are making discreet inquiries about buying foreign citizenships.

The current political situation resembles the factionalism that plagued the final years of the Ming dynasty (1368- 1644). The Ming court was riven by politicking between the Donglin faction and practically everybody else. Named for the influential Donglin Academy, whose denizens publicly criticised government policies and officials, the Donglin faction, in and out of government, fought tooth and nail against corrupt and reactionary rival groups, in particular the eunuchs’ faction. However, most Donglin members were obdurate obstructionists who knew not the art of the possible, who valued their personal reputations more than state interests, and whose actions were informed more by impetuousness than reason.

While officials were fighting among themselves, the running of the empire was mostly on auto-pilot, barely skimming over the triple whammy of natural disas ters, armed rebellions and the warlike Manchus to the northeast, before crashing towards an ignoble end.