Video of woman stripped to underwear by subway employee sparks outrage in China

Society & Culture

Casual, humiliating violence was perpetrated by a security guard at a Xi’an subway station. “What the security guard ripped apart was not only the female passenger’s shirt, but also all Chinese women’s dignity and sense of security,” said one social media user’s popular comment.

A truly disturbing video of a security guard violently removing a female passenger from a subway train in Xi’an and ripping off her clothes during the altercation has sparked a rolling social media conversation about the use of force in law enforcement, especially in public situations where women are involved. 

According to a statement (in Chinese) released by subway officials in Xi’an, the incident happened on Monday, when the woman was riding the subway by herself and got into an argument with several passengers in the same car. As the dispute escalated and started to “seriously disrupt the public order of the subway,” a security guard at the station decided to intervene. The man first told the woman to leave, but she refused. What followed was captured in a viral video taken by a bystander at the scene. (Warning, it’s upsetting to watch.)

When the video begins, the young woman is on her seat, repeatedly screaming “I’m not going anywhere” as she is surrounded by the security guard and other passengers. Then a man in uniform begins forcefully pulling her off the bench and violently dragging her onto the platform. None of the onlookers steps in to ease the tensions as the woman’s shirt gets torn, exposing her skin. 

At one point, the woman crawls back into the subway car just to be taken out again by the security guard and a fellow passenger. Her personal belongings are scattered all over the ground. “Oh, my gosh,” the person who filmed the video says while witnessing the scuffle. The video ends with the woman darting back into the subway car in her underwear while being chased by the security guard again.

“In the aftermath of the incident, our security personnel escorted her to her destination and she left on her own,” the notice said. “Thanks to the cooperative passengers for their support of our work. Meanwhile, we want to ask citizens to pay attention to etiquette rules when using public transportation. When you discover wrongdoings, please don’t hesitate to seek help from the subway staff or police officers.”

Painting the woman as an unruly passenger causing trouble at the expense of other passengers’ convenience, the statement has no mention of how badly she was treated or what exactly caused the quarrel in the first place. The omission of the information felt intentional, according to people who watched the viral video and were irritated by the security guard’s actions. 

They argued that it was unfair to only penalize the woman when several people were involved in the dispute, and that even if she were at fault, the subway staff had no right to publicly attack and humiliate her. “Every argument involves two sides. So why did the security guard only force the female passenger to get off the train? Is it because he saw her as an easy target to tear down?” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese). “The use of violence is totally unnecessary in this situation. She was not a threat to public security,” another person wrote (in Chinese).

Others, including many Chinese women who sympathized with the passenger, said that the controversy was a potent reminder of how women are subjected to violence on a daily basis, sometimes even at the hands of authorities and law enforcement. “What the security guard ripped apart was not only the female passenger’s shirt, but also all Chinese women’s dignity and sense of security,” a Weibo user said (in Chinese). 

As of today, a slew of hashtags related to the controversy have appeared on the trending list on Weibo, with the most popular one (in Chinese) racking up over 1.8 billion views. And as the public furor continued to grow, officials involved in the controversy seemed to have had a change of heart. Yesterday, the local government of Xi’an announced (in Chinese) that seven people working for the company and responsible for the city’s subway system had received different kinds of penalties, ranging from warning to suspension.