Pro-China demonstration in Hong Kong

Banyan | 18 August 2014 | The Economist

NOWHERE in the world, it seems, are demonstrators so hard to count as in Hong Kong. This was true even under British rule. Under Chinese sovereignty since 1997, Hong Kong’s arithmetic has got even harder. When untold thousands took to the streets on July 1st for what has become an annual march demanding full democracy for the special administrative region of China, the police estimated 98,600 people took part. The organisers reckoned more than five times as many braved the heat to raise their voices against the local government.

In comparison the estimates of attendance at the “pro-China” demonstration on August 17th are in a rather tighter range: 111,000, said the police; 193,000 the organisers. The police of course work for the government, and that the Hong Kong government is itself “pro-China”. But in this case, other complexities entered the calculations: how many of the protesters were genuine?  How many took to the streets because they had been paid to do so? (The sizeable South Asian contingent, for example, seem unlikely to have been donating their day off for the cause.) How many were treated to lunch or “encouraged” by their employers to take part? And how many were mainland tourists, on what must have seemed an unusual coach tour?

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