Other Sights of Hong Kong (2)
So there is a base or vile person annoying you, messing with you or taking mean and petty actions against you, in your office or your neighborhood, or about your family or relationship? And you have no lawful excuse to stop him/her nor physical strength to beat him/her up? OK, you have a way to exorcise yourself and punish the trouble maker, lawfully and peacefully. I mean, if you are in Hong Kong or certain southeast Asian countries.
I am referring to the practice of “da siu yan” (打小人) or “beat the petty people”, which is partly an exorcist practice and partly a way of anger management. The practice is easily available, for a small sum of money, under the Canal Road Flyover at Wan Chai, Hong Kong. There, on any week day, you can see a few old ladies having set up shops with their usual “gears”, including small statues of certain deities, incense, paper tigers (representing malevolent forces that must be placated), papers on which the name or names of the targeted petty people are to be written, etc. These old ladies are known as “bai shen po” (拜神婆), professionals who are paid to practice for the benefit of the client.
The ritual goes somewhat like this (but may vary when practiced by different bai shen pos or in different places):
Firstly, the bai shen po and the client pay respect and make offering to the deities. There are usually a few deities that the client may choose. For many clients, the God of Mercy (观音, an immensely popular Savior in Chinese beliefs) is the all-purpose deity. For some clients, help from more aggressive deities may be needed, such as Wong Tai Sin (黄大仙, a popular Immortal who is believed having great power of healing) and Monkey King (齐天大圣, one of the most popular characters in Chinese culture, who is worshiped as a deity and believed having great power to subdue evil spirits).
Then, the bai shen po put the name and birth date of the petty person on a paper and then put the paper on a brick and starts beating it with an old shoe. If you don’t have a specific name to put on the paper, the bai shen po can use a prepared, general-purpose paper to beat on (which in effect will make a general curse to all evil spirits that may harm you). While beating the paper, she chants something like this: “Beat you, petty person, beat your head. . . . Beat your head so that you can hardly breathe. . . . Beat you, petty person, beat your feet. . . . Beat your feet so that you can hardly walk . . . .”(打你个小人头，打到你有气无得透；打你只小人脚，打到你有脚都唔识走)
After beating the petty person, the bai shen po burns certain good luck charms, such as “dissolution paper charm” (化解符), to symbolize the dissolution of all grudges and enmities.
The ritual can be carried out at any time of the year, but there are some most “suitable” dates, such as the spring day known in Chinese lunar calendar as Awakening of the Insects (惊蛰), day that usually falls on the 5th, 6th or 7th of March each year. According to ancient Chinese beliefs, it is the day when all hibernating insects and animals awaken and people should do something to prevent them from entering their homes and harming them.
Each time I visit Hong Kong, no matter in what month, I would go to the Canal Road Flyover at least once to see if any one is beating the petty person. Last October, when I was in Hong Kong, I went there again and captured a few pictures of this interesting Chinese custom as a young caucasian, very likely a curious tourist, paid a bai shen po to carry out the ritual for him.
Note: The Beat the Petty Person Ritual has been listed in the inventory of intangible cultural heritage in Hong Kong.