"Mainlandisation" has become a commonly used term to characterise - usually in a negative way - the inevitable and now swiftly accelerating process by which Hong Kong is being assimilated into China's political, social and economic mainstream.

In the 1980s and '90s, many local observers plaintively hoped that, over time, China would become more like Hong Kong. Economically, at least, the country's transformation over the past 30 years has been an astonishing phenomenon; comprehensive analysis will keep legions of scholars, across a broad range of disciplines, occupied for generations.

But back in the real world, the tail does not wag the dog, especially when the animal is sat firmly upon it. And so this has proven to be with Hong Kong's influence on China's political development since the 1997 handover.

British prime minister Harold Macmillan's famous speech in 1960 in Cape Town, South Africa, illustrated one of history's pivotal moments, when a major policy direction - already in motion behind the scenes - publicly and swiftly altered. "The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact," Macmillan declaimed, referring to Britain's plans for rapid decolonisation in Africa and elsewhere. This signalled a significant departure from gradual constitutional development and devolved independence, as had already been achieved in 1957 in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Malaya, towards swift withdrawal from Britain's remaining colonial commitments.

And so it was; within a few years, political transformations that had once been expected to take decades had been substantially completed. This policy shift caused widespread alarm; Kenya's European settler farmers and ranchers (on whom that country's export-driven agricultural economy largely depended, in the days before a mass international tourist industry) decried the policy change as a rank betrayal of their interests. Southern Rhodesia's (now Zimbabwe) white minority government, alarmed by the ominous portent of things to come, unilaterally declared independence from Britain in 1965.

Macmillan's speech offers Hong Kong parallels that many find deeply uncomfortable. The visit of Li Fei, deputy general secretary of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, in August 2014 had far-reaching consequences for local constitutional development. His uncompromising stance on political reform, and the clear symbolism that accompanied Li's "laying down the law" speech, immediately catalysed public opinion.

The hapless senior officials tasked with implementing the already discredited "Let's Talk and Achieve Universal Suffrage" poster campaign - Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen - did not even sit at the top table when Li spoke; instead, they were parked on the sidelines with the journalists in the audience, to "tremble and obey". This symbolism demonstrated to the watching public - as though further proof were needed - just how lowly Hong Kong's top officials, and in particular "The Three Stooges", really were within the national pecking order.

Within weeks, the long-threatened Occupy protests erupted. Since then, political dysfunction has become more entrenched, social polarisation more embittered, youth disaffection more widespread and the local nativist movement - already plainly apparent for some years - has gathered strength and crystallised into militancy.

An entire sequence of predictable, virtually unresolvable, potentially tragic social and political consequences - Hong Kong's own "wind of change" aftermath - became inevitable in the summer of 2014, and continues to reverberate dangerously throughout local society.

For more on Hong Kong history and heritage, go to scmp.com/topics/old-hong-kong