Hong Kong beats its demons

Hong Kong beats its demons. With the help of the White Tiger ladies of Causeway Bay

Jingzhe* is the Chinese name for the third of the twenty-four solar terms in traditional East Asian calendars. It starts when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 345° or when the earth has moved 15° in its orbit around the sun, which is March 5 on western calendars. It continues for fifteen days.

The word means the awakening of insects. Folklore holds that thunderstorms will startle the bugs out of hibernation signifying the arrival of spring and the onset of the rainy season. Although the ants are already awake and have been foraging for rogue smears of marmalade on my kitchen table for more than a week.

Jingzhe is also prime time for da siu yan. This means villain hitting or devil beating if you prefer. It is a form of traditional folk sorcery popular in Hong Kong and Guangdong province in southern China. What happens is a sorcerer, usually a little old lady known collectively as White Tiger ladies, will scold, curse and thrash your enemies or anyone else you happen to dislike. This can be anyone from your boss, your ex-husband or wife, or particularly egregious politicians.

The postcard stories are short anecdotes and observations from around Asia

But according to ancient lore it is not only insects that are disturbed by the thunder, a wide range of unsavoury spirits also awake. The practice of beating evolved as a way for people to protect themselves from those that are harmful. Over the years the bad spirits themselves evolved into anyone you don’t happen to like.

How it works

Each White Tiger lady will have her own special rituals but the core components are as follows. First you must pay your respects to her chosen deity. Kwun Yam and Tin Hau are both popular in Hong Kong generally and were well represented here. The Monkey King is said to be popular also. I didn’t notice him but I did see a quite a few that I didn’t recognise at all.

Next you write your name on a piece of red fulu paper and your victim’s name on a piece of white. Fulu are magical incantations and symbols printed onto narrow strips. You can also include photos if you wish. If you just want to curse the world in general you can leave the white paper blank.

After this the old lady takes a shoe or some kind of strap and proceeds to thrash the white fulu with considerable verve decanting a stream of muttered oaths and directives as she does so (main pic). But that is not all. When the fulu is thoroughly torn and frayed it is tucked, along with any supporting photos, inside a folded yellow paper tiger. This represents Baak Fu, the white tiger who has also been awakened by the inclement weather and is hungry.

the White Tiger ladies
After the beating the offending fulu is burned

Farmers used to worship Baak Fu and make offerings of pigs blood smeared onto paper tigers as a means of feeding it and preventing it from hurting the villagers. These days, now merged with the tradition of devil beating, just a smear of pork fat is rubbed onto the tiger’s mouth before the whole package is thrown into the fire.

Lastly yin and yang divination blocks are cast onto the ground, to seal the curse, followed by a scattering of rice grains to signify the dispersal of the annoying person or people. With Baak Fu appeased, your victim trounced and harmony restored all that is left is for you to compensate your white tiger lady for her services. Fifty Hong Kong dollars (US$6.44) is all it takes to consign your nemesis to the flames.

Devils can be beaten all year round. There are always two or three makeshift altars set up under the Canal Road flyover in Causeway Bay. But the first day of Jingzhe is the most popular day. Then the number of altars swells to fifteen or more. The White Tiger ladies seemed particularly busy this year.

*It is called gyeongchip in Korea, keichitsu in Japan and Kinh trập in Vietnam

2 thoughts on “Hong Kong beats its demons

  • 5th March 2021 at 21:28
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    Very interesting read thank you, with entertaining anecdotes. China is very steeped in tradition.

    Reply
    • 5th March 2021 at 22:13
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      Thanks for the kind words, Carole. Yes, the traditions are also often very localised and vary from place to place. It is endlessly fascinating.

      Reply

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