A woman puts on make-up at a railway station in Beijing on December, 12, 2014.
On Saturday, the clip by China Railway was the most searched, most read and most debated item on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform – two months after it was originally posted.
The angry reception to the post comes amid a wider feminist movement calling for greater gender equality in the country of 1.4 billion where men often still dominate boardrooms and top government bodies – and where, in the past, the feminist movement has often been censored.
The post appears to have been intended as part of a campaign by the railway to cut down on anti-social behavior by passengers and follows a series of other posts that have instructed people not to litter, take other people’s seats or talk too loudly.
Unveiled in July, the video features a stylishly dressed woman filming herself preparing to apply lotion and foundation while seated in what appears to be the cabin of a high-speed inter-city train.
She is interrupted by a man on the adjacent seat who taps her on the shoulder, and the clip then shows the man’s face covered in her foundation.
“I don’t need to put on makeup, beauty,” he then tells the woman, who apologizes and helps him clean up.
The clip of around a minute has sparked a controversy that shows no sign of abating.
By Saturday, its related hashtag had garnered 340 million views and 20,000 comments. Many citizens criticized the video as offensive.
“Why does it have to be such a gender-focused case, of women putting on makeup, to illustrate uncivilized behavior?” one Weibo user asked.
Others defended the right to put on makeup. “There isn’t anything uncivilized about it,” said one.
Another asked, “Will the next move involve banning women on trains once and for all?”
Chinese officials have tried to defend the advert, with a commentary circulated by state media outlets calling on people not to “over interpret” it.
The commentary, first published in Nanfang Daily, claimed that makeup incidents such as the one depicted were among the “most common” complaints received.
However, it admitted there were worse behaviors – such as being too loud or occupying another passenger’s seat.
“The publisher of the video is not asking people not to put on makeup on the train but to advocate a civilized form of commuting and to consider the feelings of other passengers,” it said.
In response to inquiries by local press, staff at China Railway’s customer service hotline said putting on makeup is not banned on trains.