In front of a trade delegation from the People's Republic of China, former U.S. secretary of agriculture Earl Butz Wednesday criticized the Carter administration's recognition of the Communist Chinese government.

Speaking at the National Plowing Matches in Marshalltown, 40 miles southeast of here, Butz made the diplomatic faux pas apparently because he assumed that the 13-member delegation was from Nationalist China.

Butz told the Chinese he was shocked that "Taiwan was sold down the river when Red China was recognized by the United States government." Butz's brief comments were not translated by an interpreter accompanying the delegation on a tour of the United States, but members of the delegation who can read English learned of the remarks today when they were reported in the Des Moines Register.

Speaking through the interpreter, the leader of the group, Chen Pixian, said today that Butz's statement was "unpleasant" and "not in the best interest" of Chinese-American relations.

But, said Chen, the remarks would not harm relations between the two countries. Chen is the chairman of the Provincial Revolutionary Committee of Hubei province, a position comparable to that of an American state governor.

In a meeting with Iowa Republican Gov. Robert Ray, Chen said today, "I have to express my pity" at Butz's remarks. He added that the remarks have "nothing to do with the great friendship between the Chinese people and the American people."

Before meeting with the Chinese, Ray told reporters Butz's remarks were "unfortunate," but stopped short of saying Butz should apologize.

"I can't speak for Earl Butz," Ray said when asked if the delegation deserved an apology.

The Chinese trade group is being accompanied on their U.S. tour by aides to Ohio Gov. James Rhodes, who invited the group to the United States.

Sandra Bartley, a Rhodes aide, said Butz's comments were not interpreted for the visitors during the former secretary's speech Wednesday because "there is no sense ruining the good feeling they have about our leaders."

"We want this to be a happy time in the U.S.," she said. "It's only when the press plays it up that it's [the Butz remark] important."

Iowa Republican chairman Stephen Roberts, who along with Ray and Republican presidential hopeful George Bush was on the platform with Butz, interrupted Butz during his speech to point out his error, but Butz continued speaking on farm topics and made no attempt to explain or apologize to the Chinese for his brief statement.