The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hillary Clinton called Xi’s speech ‘shameless,’ and the Web went wild

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the Global Leaders' Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment at the U.N. headquarters on Sunday. (Bryan R. Smith/AP)

On Sunday morning, as Chinese President Xi Jinping prepared to share his thoughts on women's equality at a U.N. meeting on gender, Hillary Rodham Clinton offered her own take on the day's events.

Retweeting a New York Times story about China's record on women's issues and citing China's arrest of five feminists in March, the Democratic presidential candidate called Xi's presence at the summit "shameless."

Unsurprisingly, the Internet went bananas, highlighting the gap between how the United States and China see rights issues and, ironically, its own remarkable capacity for sexist mudslinging.

First, some context: Clinton's comment cut to the heart of a lively debate about what role, if any, China's top leader should have at the U.N. summit.

The event was held to mark the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, which brought activists from all over to Beijing in September 1995 and featured a keynote speech by then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

But what might have been a celebratory anniversary year for Beijing has been anything but, thanks to a large-scale crackdown on Chinese civil society, including women's groups. In March, Chinese authorities detained five young women, best known for staging peaceful “performance art” demonstrations, ahead of International Women's Day — a move that had a chilling effect on women's groups across the country and garnered widespread criticism. The women were later released on bail but say that since then, they "have been under investigation and strict surveillance as 'criminal suspects.'"

In the run-up to the speech, several women's rights advocates, including the five Chinese activists, questioned the decision to let Xi speak. But it was Clinton's comment that really got people talking.

Among many rights activists and feminists in both countries, the comment was seen as important and on-point.

China's state-backed media, meanwhile, were not impressed.

In a Chinese-language editorial published online, the Global Times, a paper known for strident nationalism, called Clinton "low" and compared her to "demagogue Donald Trump."

"It seems that Hillary, eager to keep a competitive edge in the game, has also resorted to these ignominious shenanigans," read the English-language version of the editorial. "Despite her political acumen as former secretary of state and senator, she is using the language of Trump to cast herself in the role of a rabble-rouser."

Li Junhua, an official in China's Foreign Ministry, called Clinton's criticism "groundless."

"I believe the people in the best position to judge the state of women's issues in China are Chinese people, particularly Chinese women," Li said at a news briefing, according to the news agency Reuters.

Li's comments garnered interesting reactions on Weibo, a popular Chinese micro-blogging service, where some users joked about the fact that, thanks to censorship, most Chinese people did not even know about the "persecution" that Clinton referenced.

Others took chauvinistic cheap shots.

"Speak after you've controlled your husband," one user wrote.

Not to be outdone, U.S. Twitter users responded with a similar mix of mindless put-downs.

Proof that missing the point is a truly universal attribute.

Xu Yangjingjing reported from Beijing.

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail

CLEVELAND, OH - On the third day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, and Anne Holton, aboard the campaign bus in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday July 31, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)