It's still too early to erect a tombstone to the Umbrella Movement, the student-led protest that for more than two months has swept Hong Kong in an occasionally-violent bid to demand a purer form of democracy from Beijing.
But as leaders across generations call for a retreat, the campaign that once brought hundreds of thousands to the streets is faltering. Facing court injunctions to clear a growing number of areas and a swelling tide of opposition among a public sick of disrupted commutes and placard-carrying protesters, Occupy Central may soon vanish.
It's not gone yet, of course – and victory for an uncompromising Beijing may prove to be a hollow one, given the way its stance has provoked deep new skepticism in Taiwan and may galvanize a generation intent on democratic reform in Hong Kong.
But it has become increasingly clear that the occupation of the central city is drawing to a close, thanks not to a much-feared violent intervention from Beijing, but instead to the people of Hong Kong opting to abandon the protesters and side instead with stability – the paramount objective of the Communist Party of China.
The slow folding of the Umbrella Movement, without a single death, marks a clear victory for President Xi Jinping, who met a potentially serious threat to his authority with patience and a refusal to cede any ground to protesters.
The use of tear gas and police violence against the first protests in late September prompted memories of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and sparked widespread fear that, 25 years later, Mr. Xi might employ a similar response. He did the opposite. Though some street brawls left police and demonstrators bloodied, officers also allowed protests to proceed for weeks with virtually no interference.
Mr. Xi rules atop a fierce authoritarian regime that routinely detains, tortures and executes opponents. But his treatment of Hong Kong has stood in stark treatment to the over-reaches of authority that fuelled protests in places like Ferguson, Missouri.
That is even more remarkable, given the danger Occupy posed to the regime. In 1989, students amassed in Tiananmen Square, which has symbolic value but little practical importance. Protesters came to downtown Hong Kong with the intent of interrupting the economic and civic functioning of China's wealthiest city.
"I would argue it was a much greater threat than at Tiananmen," said Michael DeGolyer, a professor of professor of political and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. It also posed risk to Mr. Xi himself. "The danger was that all of China would see him as weak."
Instead, the Chinese leader – who reputedly made a single over-riding edict that blood not be shed – emerges with greater authority. The protest is waning in large measure because the people of Hong Kong themselves rose up in opposition to it, a clear win for Beijing. Recent polls show more than two-thirds of city residents want government to clear protesters away.
The protest even allowed Beijing to seemingly shake off the last vestiges of foreign influence in Hong Kong. China has refused entry to British parliamentarians, who want to probe for violations of the agreement that preceded the 1997 handover. Beijing flatly said the U.K. no longer has even a moral obligation for the city.
"I don't think the Hu Jintao administration would have had the guts or the self-confidence to refuse entry for the British MPs," said Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "But now, Xi Jinping regards himself as the equal of Barack Obama."
What's unclear, however, is whether the victory will prove durable. There are already signs that Mr. Xi's gains in Hong Kong have come with a cost in Taiwan, where municipal elections last week produced deep losses for the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang. In response, President Ma Ying-Jeou resigned the ruling party's chairmanship. The election outcome was at least partly driven by a rising skepticism of Beijing, amid fears that Chinese authorities have not kept their one-country two-systems pledge in Hong Kong.
Beijing's treatment of Hong Kong has "caused serious mistrust among Taiwanese toward the mainland," said Zhang Lifan, a long-time historian of the Communist Party. The failure for China's Communists, he said, is greater than that of the Umbrella Movement.
At the same time, the Hong Kong protesters are reformulating ways to add pressure without occupying streets, suggesting the end of the movement may only be the end of act one. Joshua Wong, one of its most visible faces, is now days into a hunger strike. Flash mobs have been used to legally draw attention to demands for change. Some of the most radical groups have raised the possibility of using Molotov cocktails, or even bombs, to further their aims.
But others are examining how to achieve something more lasting. On Friday night, student leaders in Hong Kong met with well-connected political operatives to discuss a more formal strategy that may include fielding candidates in 2016 elections.
"This is not a 60-day movement. To think so would be absolutely juvenile," said Ed Lau, a dedicated protester who is now coordinating attempts to continue the campaign.
"This seed of democracy is taking root," he said. "We don't want to be constrained by the old power structure any more."