The Chinese had been braced for lesbians tearing off their clothes in public. What they had not bargained for during the UN World Conference on Women was Danish MPs getting dressed in front of Qiao Shi, head of the National People's Congress, the country's rubber-stamp parliament, in Peking's Great Hall of the People.
It is not the Chinese way, when in a meeting with a top official, to don a T-shirt bearing the words "Stop" in Chinese, "Non" in French, and a picture of a nuclear bomb going off. The nine MPs, representing all Denmark's political parties, then sat silently through the rest of Mr Qiao's address.
He had invited all 420 legislators taking part in the women's conference for a day-long gathering at the Great Hall, symbolic heart of the Chinese political establishment.
After five hours in their chosen attire, the time came to leave. The Danes stood in a row for several minutes on the Great Hall steps, joined by MPs from Finland and Norway who had also put on T-shirts.
Earlier, the Danish MPs had handed Mr Qiao a letter to President Jiang Zemin urging China to stop nuclear tests "for the sake of the global and our natural environment". Helle Degn, the Social Democratic Party of Denmark chairwoman, said Mr Qiao offered a polite "thank you". China has conducted two tests this year, and is expected to carry out several more over the next year.
Until now, protests by women have only taken place at the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum site in Huairou, an hour's drive from Peking. "We didn't say anything negative in our silent expression," said Hanne Severinsen, one of the protesters. "We just said that nuclear testing is no good."
The protest was taking place as China was bidding goodbye to another troublesome guest, Hillary Clinton. Just hours after she left for Mongolia, the Foreign Ministry broke its silence on the First Lady's description on Tuesday of China's block on visas for certain delegates as "indefensible", and her attacks on political repression and birth-control policies.
"Some people from some countries have made unwarranted remarks or criticism of other countries," said the spokesman, Chen Jian. "That goes against the theme of this conference. We would like to caution these people to pay more attention to the problems in their own countries." By Chinese standards, the comments were mild.
"We hope the US side will take concrete and effective measures instead of making fresh troubles and putting new obstacles in the way of Sino- US relations," Mr Chen said. The Foreign Ministry reiterated that the visit of President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan to the US in June remained the "key issue" of the soured relations. Diplomats did not think Mrs Clinton's speech would affect discussion of a possible summit between Presidents Clinton and Jiang.
The UN, meanwhile, admitted it was doing something to put its house in order. To achieve "gender balance", two out of three vacancies will be filled by women for the next five years. Male managers will be assessed on "gender sensitivity" and judged on how many women they recruit. The target is for half of all UN jobs to be held by women by 2000, compared to today's one-third.
Peking diary, page 13
Helen Wilkinson, page 15Reuse content