Beating Petty Persons in Wan Chai
(March 5th or 6th)
     In Chinese calendar, every year there is a day in summertime earmarked for beating 'petty persons' (i.e. hostile parties). This day is called Jingzhe, overlapping either March 5th or the 6th in western calendar. It is a traditional belief that on the day of Jingzhe, venomous insects wake up and the 'White Tiger', a super-natural malignant being in local folklore, roams around looking for prey. Then local folks perform a ritual to placate the White Tiger. The reason for linking pleasing white tiger and beating 'petty persons' ritual is still not clear. But to many folks it sound convenient to perform the two rituals together. On one hand the folks sent their enemies, represented in paper figures, to the White Tiger, and on the other, because of the former ritual, they remove their threat from the White Tiger. The Jingzhe ritual serves them dual goods.

     The main objective of the beating petty persons is to eliminate their vicious influence, while invoking aid from "honorable person" for the ritual's recipient who may or may not be the actual performer of the ritual. (Chiao, 1986) The ritual had been quite common in the Pearl River delta areas including Dongguan, Zengcheng, Nanhai, Panyu, Shunde, but was stopped after the establishment of Peoples' Republic of China in 1949, leaving Hong Kong and Macau the major places where the ritual continues.

     In Hong Kong, underneath the Goose Neck Bridge in Wan Chai is a well-known locale for people exercising the ritual, but it is a mistaken idea if it is thought to be an exclusive venue, as one could easily find people everywhere performing the same ritual at street corners in respective neighborhoods. The Bridge draws particular attention simply because it gathers a number of elderly women, working as 'professional beaters'. Another "hot spot" where "professional beaters" congregate is the Lover's Stone Park in Mid-level on Hong Kong Island.
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Underneath the Goose Neck Bridge (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
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A popular 'beater' decorated her shrine with a big porcelain tiger. (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2004)
     Since the White Tiger usually hides itself in damp and hidden places to hunt its prey, the favourite place for the ritual is a cross-roads or, in the case of the Goose Neck Bridge, below a bridge. In the evening of Jingzhe, a dozen of professional beaters gather in a cramped space below the bridge, each taking up a few square feet. To attract customers, they put up models of fierce white tigers on their shrines and display their beating tools - old and worn-out shoes. They are commissioned to beat the paper petty persons with the shoes. On average, they finish the ritual in three minutes and they charge 50 dollars for their service. Certainly, people can perform the ritual by themselves. They can buy from the groceries near the bridge a pack, inside which are materials needed for the ritual: joss sticks, paper tiger, a piece of fat pork , used to feed and so as to please the tiger, and paper petty persons (shoes are not included). Each pack costs less than 10 dollars only.
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A professional 'beater' was beating a 'petty person' on behalf of a male customer (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
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This lady beat her 'petty person' by using one of her shoes. (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
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Paper tigers were too busy in eating fat pork, thus causing no harm to passers-by. (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)
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Instead of hiring professional 'beaters,' many local folks beat "petty persons" themselves. In the photo, a pair of used shoes left on the ground by someone who had finished the ritual. (by Sui-wai Cheung, 2002)

     By and large, while the professional 'beaters' beat the paper petty persons with shoes vigorously, they chant canticles. Following this, they roll some paper 'charms' and wave them over the customers' body signifying a removal of omen. Finally, they make divination by throwing two kidney-shaped divine cups onto the ground. If the divination turns out to be positive, this implies that the recipients have eliminated their existing or hidden enemies. Then the ritual is completed. However, if the divination ends up being negative, the 'beaters' have to make the divination again.

     Chien Chao shows that there are some individual variations among the ritual performances, for instance, normally a 'petty person' is beaten, pierced, and burnt. But in some cases, a 'petty person' is in put on a small paper-folded boat, later burnt with the boat together.

   
References:
     Chien Chao, "Beating the Petty Person: a Ritual of Hong Kong Chinese," New Asia Academic Bulletin, no. 6 (Special Issue on Anthropological Studies), 1986, pp. 211-8.
   
Author: Dr. Sui-wai Cheung
Date: June, 2005
Video Making: Creating Culture Press
Sponsored by the LEARNet Production Fund