Gee … whatever could they mean? Beijing sent out a warning overnight to protesters in Hong Kong, declaring that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” The BBC does not believe this is a fire safety tip, but a warning that a replay of Tiananmen Square could be imminent:

The New York Times also reports on the exhaustion of Beijing’s patience with its breakway enclave. If protesters think that restraint equals weakness, one government spokesman said, they’re about to be very surprised:

An official in Beijing on Tuesday issued China’s sternest denunciation yet of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, saying they had “exceeded the scope of free assembly” and warning that the semiautonomous city would not be allowed to descend into chaos.

“I want to warn all the criminals to not wrongly judge the situation and take restraint for weakness,” said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. He warned against underestimating China’s “firm resolve and strength to safeguard the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

But Mr. Yang offered little in the way of concrete measures to resolve the political crisis, calling for more patriotic education and encouraging residents to confront protesters. “We need to stand up to protect our wonderful homeland,” he said.

The warnings follow the most disruptive protests yet seen in Hong Kong. Angry demonstrators staging a strike forced the cancellation of airline flights and brought the city’s subway system to a halt, causing major disruptions that Beijing cannot afford to ignore. The general strike was so successful in both instances that it’s a tactic likely to be repeated and broadened:

But the general strike demonstrated the dissenters’ increasing boldness. Many who did not show up to work, especially government employees, risked losing their jobs or facing punishment from employers.

Kwok, the operations worker at Hong Kong Airlines, highlighted the strike’s strategic intent.

“The airport is the most important piece of infrastructure to the government, and shows the world an image of Hong Kong,” he said. “This is a matter of economic development. Can the government risk it?”

Over 400 employees at the airline signed on to the strike, Kwok said, along with unions representing employees of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s largest carrier. More than 200 flights at Hong Kong airport — among the world’s busiest — were canceled.

The rebellion started by Beijing’s attempts to pass an extradition bill that would put the city under its thumb has shown no signs of slowing momentum. Beijing’s supporters have tried to stage counterdemonstrations, or perhaps tried to provoke enough violence to force police to react. If that’s the strategy, it’s working:

That might provide the pretext for Beijing to stage a military intervention. Michael Yon has been covering the action in Hong Kong for several weeks now, and he’s been predicting an uprising and conflict with China’s government. Gordon Chang agreed yesterday:

In Hong Kong, revolution is in the air. What started out as an unexpectedly large demonstration in late April against a piece of legislation—an extradition bill—has become a call for democracy in the territory as well as independence from China and the end of communism on Chinese soil.

Almost nobody thinks any of these things can happen, but they forget that Chinese rebellions and revolutions often start at the periphery and then work their way to the center. The Qing dynasty of the Manchus, the last imperial reign, unraveled from the edges, as did others.

Hong Kong, perched on the edge of the Asian continent far from the center of communist power in Beijing, may be where the end of Chinese communism begins.

That’s possible, but is it likely? The odds would be just as much against Hong Kong as they were against the Tiananmen Square protesters. In fact, it might be even tougher now, with Beijing building a cult around Xi Jinping and in the middle of its China Made 2025 push. Don’t forget that some considered Hong Kong’s reincorporation into China in 1997 the end of Chinese communism too, which Hong Kong’s capitalist and mercantile success would banish from Asia.

It’s certainly a hope, though. At least until the tanks roll in, and that time appears to be getting closer.