During President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Hong Kong, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its establishment as a Special Administrative Region of China and to officiate at the swearing-in of the city’s new chief executive and senior government officials, the stamp of China’s sovereignty over the city was visible everywhere. And rightly so, because, like it or not, Hong Kong is a Chinese city and no amount of caterwauling and gnashing of teeth is going to change that, at least not in the foreseeable future.
As if to forewarn against any escalation of what to date have been childish tantrums and incendiary words into something more tangible, a big production number was staged at the People’s Liberation Army’s local garrison, in Shek Kong, where Xi inspected troops and military hardware which, even to my layman’s eyes, looked incapable of repelling any foreign invasion but more than sufficient for “domestic use”.
Following his conquests of the warring states and founding of the Chinese empire in 221BC, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty took at least half a dozen tours of his realm to “display the might of the empire and placate all within the seas”.
It wasn’t all naked triumphalism; Qin Shi Huang also mollified his newly conquered subjects with gestures such as observing local customs and worshipping their deities, much as modern politicians put on token items of indigenous clothing or utter a sentence in the local language to the delight of the natives.
Despite the long distances he travelled to consolidate his life’s work, his empire imploded shortly after his sudden death in 210BC, in the middle of a tour.