This introduction describes some of the background of Hong Kong's current situation, and sets the scene for the papers that follow. More substantively, it examines a debate that has intensified since Mao's death over the nature of the People's Republic of China (PRC). What kind of state is it? Where is it heading? Does it yet permit an embryonic 'civil society'? We will see that Sinologists and other commentators have different answers to these questions, a dissonance that reveals how fast the PRC is changing. Even so, these changes do not as yet suggest that the PRC is moving in a liberal or democratic direction. The dangers for Hong Kong's freedoms are evident. The Chinese Communist Party leadership has a notably extractive, utilitarian view of Hong Kong's value. Such a view not only rules out freedom as self-mastery ('positive' liberty); it also curtails the freedom that Hong Kong's new institutional arrangements are supposed to enshrine: freedom from interference ('negative' liberty). As recent events have shown, the PRC retains the capacity and will to overrule arbitrarily the decisions of Hong Kong's courts. In turn, this reveals the key weakness of a view of liberty that concentrates on the area of its exercise as distinct from its source. Hong Kong's political liberties are perpetually vulnerable so long as they depend on the Sovereign's authoritarian toleration. The absence of republican freedom (as nondomination) is the Achilles heel of the 'one country, two systems' formula.