Jack Ma gestures as he arrives for a meeting with Thailand's Prime Minister in Bangkok on April 19. Photo: Reuters/Jorge Silva/Pool

Gender equality activists, netizens and even state-owned media have united together to protest against Alibaba’s latest ad that they said was out of line.

On Chinese online shopping website Taobao’s front page, a drugmaker posted a photo of a pregnant woman with the tag line “What if it is a baby girl?” and suggested customers use its alkaline medicine (Jian Yun Bao) to increase the chances of having a boy.

The long-standing Chinese tradition of putting men before women is part of the unspoken culture. The ad was immediately attacked by a Jiangsu women’s union, which released an article on WeChat titled “Taobao, you owe every woman an apology.”

It pointed out a similar ad from the company that appeared last year, which said, “Finally we can pass on to the next generation.” But there was no medical backing on how this drug was supposed to help make more baby boys than girls.

For the second time, the Jiangsu union called for an apology over sex discrimination, quoting Alibaba chairman Jack Ma thanking women, who made up 70% of the buyers and 55% of the sellers on Taobao, because “without them, Alibaba could not get listed in New York.”

Alibaba’s e-commerce subsidiary Alimama apologized for overlooking the ad and said it withdrew the ad immediately and punished the merchant involved. It promised to strengthen its diligence and make sure it would not happen again.

Even the People’s Daily questioned if the punishment should be more severely. In a commentary, it asked whether this “three glasses of wine-type of penalty” is too light because this low-taste product has consistently made the front page.