BEIJING • The request seemed uncontroversial enough. Could the man smoking in the lift of a Chinese apartment building put out his cigarette?
But what happened next shocked the woman who had posed the question. The man grew violent and as the lift ascended, he attacked her repeatedly, punching her head and grabbing her face. Her young daughter, standing behind a pink bicycle, could only watch.
A video of the altercation, which took place two weeks ago in the northern city of Langfang, China, lit up Chinese social media on Friday.
Many people lamented what they described as a lack of respect for women in Chinese society and the excesses of a male-dominated smoking culture.
"The mother who tried to dissuade that scum from smoking is very brave," Chen Lan, a writer with a wide following on social media, wrote in a post on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
"This world still has some hope."
Violence against women is a persistent problem in China and has received new attention in an era when closed-circuit videos are routinely leaked online. This year, a video that showed a woman being dragged down a hallway in a four-star hotel as bystanders stood idle prompted widespread outrage.
Tobacco use divides strictly along gender lines in China, with about half of adult men smoking, compared with only 2 per cent of adult women, according to the World Bank. The government has tried to limit smoking in public places, but the tobacco industry wields significant power.
The woman in the lift, who was identified only as Ms Li, said in an interview with a Chinese television station that she told the man: "It's best if you don't smoke inside the lift. You can do it in the hallway."
Almost immediately, the man began to resist. In the interview, Ms Li said that he replied, "Why is this any of your business? Why can't I smoke?"
As he started beating her, Ms Li tried to fight back, throwing her purse at his face. But he continued to attack her until they reached the ninth floor, where he got out of the lift. She ran after him, trying to take his photo.
"I have never met someone so savage," she said. "He is a thug without humanity."
The man, who is believed to be in his 30s, remains at large, according to the authorities.