So finally, after a decade of living in China, there is a half-decent attempt to question the government's approach to, well, government. There's been attempts in the Mainland before - either individual activists, or signing of certain documents like Charter 08 - but the government has blown them out the water quickly and unfortunately severely punished those involved. In most of those cases, actually, what has been asked of the government is to respect the Chinese constitution (unfortunately the government prefers to make up its laws as it goes along as well as its punishments, and doesn't bother to pretend there is an independent judiciary, let alone any interest in implementing the constitution which is supposed to guarantee certain freedoms).
Now, Hong Kong has caused some problems for China. To be honest few ever thought those in Hong Kong (who protest regularly, such as on the anniversary of the Tiananmen protests) would ever do anything serious or sincere. The theory has been that most of those in Hong Kong are doing quite well so don't really have much to complain about, and their progress is highly dependent on Mainland China so they need to stay close. But all of a sudden some broken promises and some minor violence has made people remember that they do actually belong to Beijing (I think they forgot and just liked the benefits of being part of China without the costs), and it is a Beijing that does not listen to what people want.
So a few interesting questions - the most prominent being about how will the protests end? well, thankfully Beijing realized that using force tends to backfire, at least in a small, well connected, well educated, and highly outspoken city (force has worked in Xinjiang, Tibet and other areas). So they are just going to wait, say nothing and hope that eventually the protestors will get bored or tired or give up. Beijing doesn't compromise and doesn't want to be seen to compromise to those who protest (what a precedent that would set...)
So what will the protestors do? This is really the litmus test. As we've seen with previous protests (including the Occupy protests around the world a few years ago), things do just peter out unless they are stepped up. But stepping up requires more commitment from protestors - do they really want to do something serious here? Are they willing to take the risks? What can they do? The protestors talk about occupying government buildings - this would be interesting since it would need some use of force. And it's going to test the government's ability to just stand-off and do nothing. I'm intrigued to see what will happen...