-- From the final years of British colonialism to Hong Kong's new start as part of China, one constant has stood out among the skyscrapers of this capitalist citadel: a long-haired man in a Che Guevara T-shirt, raising a ruckus.
Now, Leung Kwok-hung is hoping to move his protest message from the streets to the legislature. He came close in 2000, and this time some analysts think he might pull it off, riding a massive wave of anti-government sentiment swirling through Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong people's consciousness has been awakened," he says.
Leung has long been a fixture at virtually any and all protests, yelling into bullhorns, burning flags and scuffling with police, demanding an end to China's "one-party dictatorship."
He's known as "Cheung Mo," or "Long Hair," though he sometimes emerges from brief spells behind bars sporting a regulation jailhouse buzz cut.
Anywhere else in China, his actions would never be tolerated, let alone shown on the TV news. Here he has been able to stick to his radical guns, and the Hong Kong mainstream that used to see him as an extreme crank has shifted in his direction, becoming an increasingly politicized society, to the dismay of leaders in Beijing who would rather it just concentrated on making money.
Although Leung's protests usually attract fewer than a dozen activists, he won 18,200 votes in the last election, just 7,700 shy of victory and more than anyone imagined. Political scientists predict he'll do better in next month's election.
July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong's 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty, has become a day of venting. In 2003, a half-million of the territory's 6.8 million people marched in protest of an anti-subversion bill they saw as a threat to their freedoms. Tung Chee-hwa, China's hand-picked chief executive of the territory, had to withdraw it.
This year, hundreds of thousands turned out over Beijing's refusal to let them elect their own leader in 2007. Hong Kong's China-approved constitution promises universal suffrage, but provides no timetable.
Leung was at the protest, of course, and he brought out a box to collect campaign donations. People filled it with cash. Even before registering for the Sept. 12 elections, he has raised the equivalent of $38,500 -- 15 times his entire 2000 war chest.
The fact that he can carry on as he does, flaunting his Che Guevara T-shirt and denouncing China's communist autocracy, suggests Hong Kong's freedoms aren't doing that badly. In this election, 30 of the 60 members of the Legislative Council are being elected by universal suffrage, up from 24 last time.
But many in Hong Kong feel they should have had more democracy to begin with. They say the deck is still stacked against them because their leader and half their legislators aren't fully elected, that the legislature lacks teeth and that China's authoritarian ways are creeping up on them through such measures as the much-reviled subversion bill.
Leung calls his appeal simple: "I stand for democracy."
He was born the son of a servant at a colonial British household who sent him to live with relatives, and the experience set the stage for his lifelong crusade for social justice.
He took part in his first protest when he was a teenager, and at 48, he's still at it, rotating through his assortment of T-shirts bearing the likeness of Guevara, the legendary Latin American revolutionary.
Leung lives alone in a cramped 220-square-foot public housing apartment with paint peeling from the ceiling. It's cluttered with newspapers and books, ranging from a Nelson Mandela biography to works by Karl Marx and the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
If Leung is elected, his monthly legislator's salary of $7,080 will be as much as he makes a year, largely from writing newspaper columns. He says he'd donate four-fifths of it to various causes.
Leung has long called for the end of China's one-party rule, and his other main cause is improving the plight of the working class. If elected, he promises to push for a minimum wage and strengthen Hong Kong's social security system.
He vows to make no concessions to the legislature's dress code, which forbids T-shirts. He wants to take office in his Che T-shirts.
"How is it anyone's business?" Leung said. "Is the legislature a fashion show?"
His brushes with the law date back to 1979, when he served a month in prison for attending an illegal demonstration. Between 2000 and 2002, he spent up to two weeks a year behind bars for staging boisterous protests in the legislature's public gallery. He was fined for defacing a Hong Kong flag during a 2001 visit by Jiang Zemin, China's president.
Some people in the district where he is running dismiss him as a troublemaker, but others support him.
Hotel cleaner Lo Siu-yuk, 57, sees more to Leung than the shouting man on the nightly news.
"You have to look at his sense of justice," Lo said.
Leung says the election of Long Hair as a legislator wouldn't change Long Hair the protester. He'll keep on demonstrating, perhaps just outside the legislature, before stepping inside to vote.
"It's impossible to change Hong Kong from within the system," he said.