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Stories behind Hong Kong street names: Canal Road, home of the devil beaters

Beneath a flyover in Causeway Bay was once not a road but a stream that became a canal. Today it is famous for the women you can pay to beat effigies of white tigers representing your enemies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 1:23pm

The Canal Road flyover, which connects the Aberdeen Tunnel to the Cross Harbour Tunnel, is an important thoroughfare in Hong Kong. Equally bustling is the Canal Road below the flyover, located in the centre of Causeway Bay.

As its name suggests, there used to be neither road nor flyover there, but a tranquil waterway.

The Stream Under the Shade was the name given to a stream that ran from Wong Nai Chung Road through Wan Chai to Victoria Harbour. Banyan trees lined both sides of the stream and in the old days, people would while away their time there fishing or just admiring the scene.

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It was such a beautiful sight that it was named one of the eight best scenes in Hong Kong, along with others such as Stanley at sunrise and Lei Yue Mun by moonlight.

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In the 1850s, under the fourth governor of Hong Kong, John Bowring, the stream was made into a canal, allowing small boats to pass. Bridges were added, including Bowrington Bridge, which was named after the governor. This bridge, built in 1861, later carried trams across the canal and along what is now Hennessy Road.

As the course of the stream resembled the neck of a goose, it was also known in Chinese as Goose Neck, and the Canal Road flyover is still referred to as Goose Neck Bridge.

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The canal is no longer visible; construction over the decades has reduced it a sewer that runs beneath Canal Road. Today, the road is known for another unique sight – the devil beaters, elderly women who recite curses as they pound at a paper effigy of a white tiger with a shoe to “beat away the devil”. The white tiger represents the enemies of the people paying for the ritual.

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While they are open for business throughout the year, the devil beaters attract most customers in early March, during Ching Che, or the Feast of Excited Insects in the lunar calendar, which marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is traditionally known as the best time to dispel evil.

Each ritual beating lasts five to 10 minutes and costs HK$50.

Feed the white tiger, but don't put a curse on anyone

Some customers come to get rid of bad luck, while others come with specific targets in mind such as annoying bosses and ex-partners. During the 2015 festival, one particularly popular target was Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, with about 10 people every hour paying for an effigy representing him to be beaten.