Need to vent your anger at someone or get rid of bad vibes? No need to call in the hitmen; in Hong Kong, it’s women who are the professional beaters, armed only with their shoes and a little bit of magic.
Some might say it’s a little odd, but it’s undeniably fascinating. The practice, known locally as ‘da siu yan’ or ‘petty person beating’, involves local women, mostly retirees, beating away bad vibes, or they can even curse enemies by whacking paper effigies with their shoes.
The practice is a sorcery that derived from ancient folk religion in China’s Guangdong Province. It’s become such a popular Hong Kong tradition that it’s even been added to the city’s list of intangible cultural heritage by the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau.
For decades, underneath a bridge in Hong Kong’s busy Causeway Bay area, locals and tourists have been visiting several women, mostly retirees, dubbed ‘Hong Kong’s Hit Women’. Anyone can visit them. Simply tell them who it is that is holding you back, and they’ll light some incense, make cut-outs of a paper tiger and beat the ‘petty person’ out of your life with a shoe. It’s a fascinating sight.
The whole ceremony of villain hitting has eight parts to it. To begin with, both the client and the villain-hitter must worship deities at the custom-built shrine. Next, the client writes down information about the person they want to curse on a villain paper; this can be a specific person they have in mind or a general villain (a group of people or circumstances the client feels is harmful to them). The villain-hitter then beats the villain paper with an old slipper or shoe while chanting a magic spell.
The following step is a sacrifice to ‘Bai Hu’ – The White Tiger – the bringer of bad luck, represented by paper tigers. The women smear pork fat over the paper tiger’s mouth as if to feed it – as the belief is that Bai Hu won’t go hunting for victims of its own once it’s been fed.
After praying for blessings from the gods, the hitter makes circles around the client’s head with the burning tiger effigy and throws it into a fire.
Towards the end of the ritual, the villain-hitter casts two crescent-shaped wooden blocks, known as ‘sheng bei’, on the ground. One must be flipped over, and the other down, to signify the cursing of the villains.
In recent years, this practice has become increasingly popular with both locals and tourists who are keen to give it a try. Typically, the villain-hitters charge HK$50 (US$7) for the service. Clients come to see these ‘hit women’ to help shake all manner of ill fortune. However, most are looking to combat unfaithful partners, love rivals or work troubles.
Some of these villain-hitters truly believe that what they do isn’t mere superstition, but actual invocation with real consequences. Others openly admit it’s a hustle or service meant to please anyone with HK$50 to spare.
More recently, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has even promoted the ritual. A board spokesman described it as part of ‘Hong Kong’s local living culture’. He added that it ‘held strong appeal to visitors’.