Who Are the Elderly Women Under the Canal Road Flyover Beating Stuff with Their Shoes?
These ladies are doing what’s called da siu yan (打小人), “villain hitting” or “beating the petty person.” It’s a piece of folk magic that’s intended to curse its recipient.
See, we’re in the middle of the ging zat period of the Chinese calendar, the “Awakening of Insects.” This period, which started this year on March 5, doesn’t just signify the beginning of Spring: It’s also the most popular time of year for villain hitting. How does it work? Well, every villain hitter has a different ritual, but here’s a rough idea.
You approach your chosen villain hitter and perform the necessary prayers and obeisances to the deities, most often Guanyin and the Monkey King. You write your own name on a red sheet of talismanic fulu paper, then the name of your cursee on a white fulu. If you want to curse general villains in your life—competitors, people who bitch about you, those who stand on the left on MTR escalators—leave it blank.
This is when the venerable old lady in front of you grasps a women’s shoe and goes to town on the white fulu, cursing the villain as she thwacks the paper until it tears and breaks. Next comes a sacrifice to appease Baak Fu, the white tiger deity who represents peace and virtue. Baak Fu is represented by a yellow paper tiger, and the hitter will rub pork fat into the tiger’s mouth to gum up its jaws, so it won’t be able to hurt you. Meanwhile the villainous fulu is tucked inside the tiger to fill it up, and then both are set alight.
Two crescent shaped divination blocks are thrown onto the ground, to verify that the curse has been cast. Lastly the villain hitter scatters beans and rice grains on the ground, to signify the dispersal of the “little people” in your life.
Visiting a mystic figure who will curse your enemies smacks more of voodoo than of a Hong Kong street scene. But the elderly villain hitters of the city do roaring business—all the more so at a time like now, when the city’s embroiled in uncertainty and anger. Who doesn’t have someone they’d like to see suffer a mishap or two?
But if you decide to go have your own villain hit, perhaps don’t curse an individual person. Fun as it may seem to watch a paper effigy of your ex be whacked into oblivion by a surprisingly spirited grandma, it’s worth bearing in mind: What goes around, comes around. Tomorrow it could be your ex taking a seat in front of the selfsame grandma, who will quite happily beat your own villainous name into the dust.