An image of a woman nursing her baby on a crowded Beijing subway has ignited a national debate on the acceptability of breastfeeding in public in China.
The photograph was taken by an onlooker and posted on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
It was captioned: “Let me remind you — this is a Beijing subway not a bus running in your village.”
The photograph went viral after it was reposted by a volunteer organisation (responsible for cleaning up subway flyers), which chastised the mother for exposing her “sexual organs” in public.
Many social media users leapt to her defence however, with one woman, doctor Ou Qian writing:
“It’d be ideal if she had used a nursing cover, but it’s not a big deal if she didn’t have one. Breasts are…for babies; they are not sexual organs.
“Babies need to be fed when they are hungry. She is a great mum.”
The original post has now been deleted and both the photographer and volunteer group has apologised, but not without significant furore on both sides of the debate.
In China, “confinement” of new mothers is still relatively common place — with many women expected to remain indoors and follow a complex set of rules to care for themselves for the first 30 days following giving birth.
Combined with short maternity leave and no laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in public spaces, a significant number of Chinese mothers are choosing to rely on formula.
According to the World Health Organisation, in 2014, fewer than 16% of Chinese mothers breastfed their children for the recommended period of six months.