U.S. Commerce Secretary GaryLocke speaks during a meeting in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in this October 28, 2009 file picture. The U.S. Senate on July 27, 2011 confirmed former Commerce Secretary Locke as ambassador to China, sending to Beijing an envoy who has said he would press for greater access to Chinese markets. (REUTERS/Aly Song/Files) GaryLocke (REUTERS/Aly Song)

It was one thing that former Commerce Secretary and Washington state governor Gary Locke was the first Chinese-American ambassador to the Middle Kingdom. Another that his stunning wife, a former Seattle television reporter, was something of a rock star. And the public thought they were terrific, which also unsettled Beijing.

But more than anything, it was Locke’s persistent hammering over human rights that really got the commies riled up, especially his direct involvement in the case of blind human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who was given refuge in the United States and later ended up in New York.

When we asked Locke a while back why his relations with Beijing were at times a bit unpleasant, he indicated it was because they think he’s trying to undermine the government. And when his car was surrounded briefly by “demonstrators” as he tried to get into the embassy, couldn’t blame anyone who thought maybe it was a signal.

But Wednesday, in his farewell speech as ambassador before former senator Max Baucus takes over this weekend, Locke didn’t let up, telling the Chinese they needed to have a “neutral and respected judiciary, an active set of dedicated lawyers, wise leadership and most of all, reverence for the rule of law,” Reuters reported.

In China, apparently, them’s fighting words. “We oppose any person using these so-called issues to interfere in China’s internal affair and make thoughtless remarks and criticise summarily,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday, according to Reuters. She noted China’s human-rights situation had developed rapidly in recent decades. (If you start with how things were under Mao, that’s certainly true.)

Locke also called for better treatment for foreign journalists, who have a tough time covering things like human-rights trials. With all of China’s successes — such as holding an Olympics, sending a spacecraft to the moon — Locke said, “China should have the national self-confidence to withstand the media scrutiny that most of the world takes for granted.”

Well, they had a rough couple hundred years.