The ancient gentlemen purporting still to rule unruly China may command nuclear bombs but are terrified by a mob of argumentative women talking in tongues that few Chinese understand.
How else to explain the heavy-handed interference with the Non-Government Organizations Forum in Huairou: the unnecessary removal of that advocacy forum to a remote exurb, the virtual shutdown of promised bus service linking it to the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, harassment of journalists covering it, physical intimidation of demonstrators, surveillance and police searches of hotel rooms.
Everything the regime wants the world to believe no longer happens in China it did in full view, out of fear that failure to do so would contaminate a half-billion Chinese women in remote villages and distant cities with subversive, perverse and defiant ideas emanating from the talkative visitors to Huairou. By going to such lengths to prevent, suppress and shroud such demonstrations as did occur set China's image back decades, as though reflecting another Cultural Revolution.
Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke for the women of all continents embattled at Huairou in her address to the official U.N. conference. "It is indefensible that many women in non-government organizations who wished to participate in this conference have not been able to attend -- or have been prohibited from fully taking part," she said. "Let me be clear. Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their governments."
The old gentlemen of Beijing had desperately wanted Mrs. Clinton to come, hinting that her absence would further exacerbate the frayed Sino-American relationship. But she was visiting the conference, not them. Her major speech on women's issues pulled no punches.
She listed actions against women as violations of human rights wherever they occur and regardless of one's culture. Naming no nation, she specified practices identified in the minds of listeners with China, with India, with much of Islamic Africa and with Serb-occupied Bosnia.
Many of the women who reached Huairou, especially from African, Asian, Latin and Islamic countries, consider themselves poor, powerless and pitiable and look to the conference to rectify that. China's rulers contradictorily paid those women the ultimate compliment. As long as they have an audience and a bullhorn, the old gentlemen consider them armed and dangerous.