As thousands of foreign women descend on Peking, the Chinese are said to be organising a massive cover-up. China's secret weapon in the battle to preserve order and decency at the international women's meetings, starting on Wednesday, will be undercover "modesty squads".
The operation could be described as "blanket security", except that the anti-personnel device will be the bedsheet.
The Chinese know that foreigners have a tendency to stage demonstrations at international gatherings. The authorities are also convinced that some delegates to the United Nations World Conference on Women and the parallel Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum are determined to march in the nude. No one seems sure why, but it is widely believed here that when radical foreign women take to the streets, they cannot keep their clothes on.
In one village north of Peking, the Communist Party chief already is recruiting for China's crack defence troops. He recently summoned all the villagers. "As you have heard, China is hosting a big women's conference. It is very important for China that it proceeds smoothly," he told them. "But some of these women from abroad are not as modest as the Chinese. They like to take their clothes off in public."
The secretary said he wanted female volunteers aged 35 to 40. Their mission: to take up strategic positions in Peking and Huairou, an hour's drive from the capital, with folded bedsheets tucked under their arms. They should remain ever-vigilant, he said, ready to pounce on any naked activists and put them swiftly under wraps. And Chinese staff, also armed with sheets, will lurk in hotel lobbies in case of women demonstrators who cannot wait until they are outside before tearing off their blouses.
Foreign organisers of the forum are mystified by the official nudist alert. But they also are seriously concerned about the widespread belief among Pekingers that the NGO Forum, to be held in Huairou is mainly for lesbians, prostitutes and radicals. To some, it looks like an attempt by the authorities to discredit the forum and undermine any criticisms by the NGOs of China's record on human rights.
But in some cases the warnings have only inflamed local interest. One taxi driver said he was ''definitely'' going to Huairou. "There are some women up there, and they are going to be taking their clothes off. It's going to be great!"
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