The handover of Hong Kong last July 1 was a signal event of the close of the 20th century and posed an open question for the 21st: Can a community of free expression and wide-open markets survive within a huge and restrictive communist society?

So far, the answer is a qualified yes.Year One under Chinese rule has been full of nasty surprises. But daily life has been affected less by Beijing than by a regional economic contagion that began in Thailand. An influenza virus provoked more worry than the People's Liberation Army.

Beijing's capacity for mischief now seems less of an issue than the Hong Kong government's own democratic credentials or the territory's economic troubles.