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Beating Petty Person Da Siu Yan

Pinkytoky writes on a wide variety of content. Her main interest is in feng shui, Chinese operas, and Chinese & Japanese art and culture.

da siu yan stalls

da siu yan stalls

Background information

Back in the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese used sorcery to eliminate enemies. The practice is known as yan zu(厭 詛), yan sheng (厭 勝)or ya sheng(壓勝), involving supernatural powers.

In comparison, the Cantonese custom of Beating Petty Person Da siu yan (打小人) is generally not evil in nature. The purpose of the ritual is not to cause harm or kill someone but just to rid undesirable people (specific or in general) and misfortune from our lives.

[NOTE: Word for word, Cantonese Da siu yan means beating little people. The English translation for little people is petty person, referring to whoever causes us trouble or harm.

Siu yan (小人) can also be a metaphor for bad luck, difficulties, trouble or misfortune.]

In those days it was commonly practiced in Donggu(東莞), Zengcheng (增城), Nanfanshun (南番顺) and Siyi (四邑) (all in Guangdong Province). Primarily associated with the Cantonese, this unique custom is now practiced by other Chinese dialect groups as well.

Beating Petty Person can be done any time of the year. However, it is believed the Jingzhe (驚蟄) season is the best period to do it, especially on Jingzhe Day. Other suitable dates are the Chu days (除日) and the Chinese lunar 6th day, 16th day and 26th day of each month.

This age-old Cantonese tradition is more intact in Hong Kong, having retained its original flavor in dialect and praying process.

In Singapore and Malaysia, the ritual is quite often conducted in the Hokkien (福建)dialect because the majority of their Chinese population is Hokkien. Also, their ritual is much simpler and shorter in duration.

Many people who make a point to da siu yan yearly do not actually have any specific target but just for peace of mind.

Why da siu yan on Jingzhe?

The ancient Chinese divided the year into 24 Solar Terms. These solar terms have meaningful titles to reflect the change of weather, climate and natural phenomena.

Jingzhe (Awakening of Insects) is the Third Solar Term and usually falls on 5, 6 or 7 March of each year. This particular day signifies the awakening of hibernating insects and animals, and the olden day Chinese will burn incense and Chinese mugwort to drive away such awakened insects or animals from their homes.

Over time this evolved into the practice of da siu yan to get rid of bad luck and unpleasant people (such as mistresses, love rivals, demanding bosses, malicious co-workers, business competitors, unpopular politicians, etc).

[Note: For this year, Jingzhe Day falls on 5 March 2021.]

Sacrifice to White Tiger

Sacrifice to White Tiger

Sacrifice to White Tiger "Zae baak fu" ritual (祭白虎)

Before going into further details on da siu yan, it is necessary to first describe Sacrifice to White Tiger Zae baak fu Ritual (祭白虎), which is closely associated with petty person beating:-

Jingzhe Day is also regarded to be the Day of the White Tiger Opening its Mouth (白虎開口日). Considered to be an inauspicious deity of disputes or disharmony arising from malicious gossips, the Chinese believe that anyone who offended the White Tiger will have petty people creating problems for him or her throughout the year.

Hence, many people perform the Zae baak fu ritual as a precautionary measure. A paper tiger, usually yellow with black stripes and with two protruding sharp teeth, represents the White Tiger. Devotees will place a piece of raw pork smeared with pig blood in the mouth of the paper tiger, symbolizing feeding the tiger. It is supposed that no one will get hurt when the Tiger Master is full.

Next, a piece of fatty meat (or pork lard) will be used to wipe the mouth of the paper tiger. By so doing, it is said that the White Tiger’s mouth is so oily that it cannot open its mouth to gossip.

Other offerings include tofu bean curds and fresh eggs. Traditionally, it should be duck eggs but nowadays chicken eggs are used either due to the rising cost of duck eggs or import ban on them.

[Note: Strictly speaking, the ritual should be held in a temple. However, due to space constraints, it is nowadays done in open space. If conducted in a temple, the feeding of the tiger will be performed on a stone tiger.]

Since the White Tiger somewhat symbolizes squabbles and conflicts, the Chinese folks find it logical and convenient to incorporate Zae baak fu into Da siu yan ritual.

Ironically, the Day of the White Tiger Opening its Mouth is also considered as the day to pray to Tiger Master for wealth (拜虎爺求财日).

How to beat little people

Although anytime can da siu yan, it is most popular on Jingzhe Day as little people are likened to the insects or animals that give trouble upon their awakening from hibernation.

The ritual is usually performed at a cross-road, under a bridge, road-side, street corner, or near a hill as evil spirits are believed to linger in dark places.

The beating can be just cursing generally or cursing someone, specifically. Some people reckon that cursing generally is more effective as it covers whoever is trying to harm you, including those you are not aware of.

Initially, it was just an individual practice. Later as more people need to outlet their anger, petty person beaters (aka villain-hitters) came into the scene. They are usually old grannies known as baai san po (拜神婆), who provide praying service for a small fee.

Paper tigers

Paper tigers

(a) Ritual items

Things commonly used for the ceremony:

(1) 2 candles and 3 joss sticks, as well as some fruits

(2) 1 piece of brick

(3) 1 old, worn-out shoe

(4) Five-devil prayer paper (五鬼紙) containing the male little people (男小人紙) or female little people (女小人紙)

(5) A set of good-luck charms, such as da bai jie(大百解), noble person charm (贵人符), mock money, gold & silver paper bullions (金银衣紙), and so forth.

[The da bai jie symbolizes the dissolution of all grudges and enmities. The noble person charm is for invoking the aid of gui ren (贵人). The Chinese term ‘gui ren’ means a person who comes to our aid in times of need or one who benefits us in our working or personal life. The mock money and gold & silver paper bullion represent wealth and treasures.]

(6) 1 piece of raw, fatty pork

(7) 1 paper tiger

(8) 1 pair of jiaobei (筊杯) or moon blocks, and

(9) Some green beans and rice grains

Da siu yan beater at work

Da siu yan beater at work

(b) Ceremonial procedure

Below is a typical example, using the above set of ritual items:-

The Petty Person Beater asks for the client’s name and date of birth. Da siu yan request can be made on behalf of another person.

If there is a specific target, the name, gender, and marital status are also needed. Date and time of birth are not required. However, a photo or some belongings of the target would be of great help.

The Beater begins by making fruit offering to the Goddess of Mercy, Monkey God, or other deities. After praying with the 3 joss sticks, she puts the paper figure (representing the petty person) on the brick and uses an old shoe to beat on it while chanting canticles. (Note: Traditionally, a wooden clog should be used for the bashing.)

After beating for 5 minutes, she uses the piece of raw, fatty pork to wipe the paper effigy a few times, symbolizing the mouth of the petty person being blocked by the fatty meat and will not be able to gossip anymore.

She then places the paper figure near the mouth of the paper tiger, signifying the little people being bitten in the tiger’s mouth and hence unable to do any more harm. These two items will be burned together with the Five-devil Prayer Paper.

After some chanting, the good-luck charms will also be burned. The Beater will then scatter the green beans and rice grains in different directions to represent the dispersing of her client’s petty person.

The final step involves the tossing of jiaobei to confirm whether all the little people have been purged. The divination procedure has to be repeated until a positive reply is obtained.

The whole ceremony ends with the client thanking the deity or deities.

(Note: There might be some individual variations among the ritual ceremonies in different countries. For example: cutting off the paper tiger’s head with a brass sword instead of burning it; or, putting the paper effigy onto a small paper-folded boat and burned together.)

D.I.Y. beating little people

Those who want to do-it-yourself can buy the materials from traditional incense shops. Few things to note though:

(1) ritual must be done outside the home

(2) always remember to burn the paper figure before entering your home, and

(3) the old shoe used for the beating must not be worn again.

Da siu yan chants

There can be variations in the chanting. Some will invoke deities to drive away petty person while others simply curse the targeted person or in general. The most common version used is as follows:

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 . . .

So long you do not take the words too seriously, the cursing can sound quite hilarious (especially in Cantonese). Nowadays, in most cases, the cursing is so much milder, as compared to those in the olden days.

The chanting usually ends with some words of blessings for the client, such as:

“There goes the petty persons, here comes the noble ones… With the support of gui ren, the year will be filled with blessings and good fortune…”

Hot spots for da siu yan

Hong Kong

The area beneath the Canal Road Flyover (堅拿道天橋) is known for its Da Siu Yan activities. This place is also commonly called Goose Neck Bridge (鵝頸橋).

[Direction: From Exit A Causeway Bay MTR, walk along Russell Street for about 5 minutes to reach the destination.]

Petty Person Beating services are available from 11 a.m. throughout the year (except 1st 3 days of Chinese New Year).

Other hot spots include the Lovers’ Rock (in Bowen Road), HungShingTemple (in Wan Chai), Yau Ma Tei Yung Shu Tau, KwongFukTemple (in Sheung Wan), etc. However, they have beating services only on Jingzhe Day.

The 15 minutes’ ritual costs HK$50.

Beware of bogus villain-hitters (young women from mainland China). Always go for Hong Kong’s genuine ones (mostly in their late 70s), who have been in that occupation for decades.

Macau

Lianfeng Temple at Avenida do Almirante Lacerda , Toi San Fu De Temple, and Shigandang Stone Tablets at Daxing Street, Avenida do Coronel Mesquita and Avenida de A.T. Barbosa, are some of the places where villain-hitters congregate on Jingzhe Day.

Prayer papers cost only MOP$15 per set. Customers are free to pay whatever amount they can afford for the beating service.

Singapore

Da siu yan service is available at Waterloo Street, in the surroundings of Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple.

The Rochor Da Bai Gong Temple is a hot spot for devotees.

Another favorite place is the Mun San Fook Tuck Chee, located at the junction of Geylang Lorong 17 and Sims Drive. They have the White Tiger deity for worshipping but do not encourage beating petty little people. Worshippers have to do it themselves if they want to Da siu yan.

Malaysia

There are many Taoist temples providing Da siu yan services in the different states of Malaysia.

The Sin Sze Si Ya Temple (or SzeYahTemple) is one such temple. It is located at 14A Lebuh Pudu, close to the Central Market of Kuala Lumpur.

In Penang, the Kuan Yin Pavilion (Guangfu Gong) is where you can go to Da siu yan. The address is 30, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, 10200 Penang.

The Zhennan AncientTemple at Taman Sri Tebrau is a Da siu yan hot spot for people in Johore Bahru.

Psychological effect

Da siu yan can be considered the Chinese way to anger management. It helps to release anger, stress or even hatred. The ritual also provides psychological comfort that bad luck and misfortune have been gotten rid of after the elimination of little people from our lives.

In recent years, some Hongkongers even resorted to Da siu yan to vent their political frustrations. Hated politicians and corrupted government officials have become popular targets. As life gets tougher and more stressful, more young people are joining the older generation in their Da siu yan practice.

According to unofficial statistics, the majority are female office workers, who tend to have more interpersonal relationship problems in the office environment. Colleagues, business partners, and mistresses are top 3 on the list of targets.

On Jingzhe Day, da siu yan hot spots are packed with people from different social classes and walks of life. Well-known villain-hitters are much sought after and even have fans willing to queue for 3 hours for their services.

Superstition or not, effective or not, having the chance to vent one’s frustration and discontentment is definitely psychologically therapeutic.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

The Beat Petty Person Ritual is listed in Hong Kong’s inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), under the domain of Social practices, Rituals, and Festive Events.

Word of Caution

For most people, the aim of beating petty person is mainly to vent their frustrations and anger. But, the end result of each session is hard to tell beforehand. Some targeted victims do later suffer mishaps. Even though it may be deemed coincidental, it is still best not to name any specific target, if it can be avoided.

Also, pregnant women should avoid da siu yan as it is believed the act will raise the chance of miscarriage.

References

In English

Villain Hitting, Wikipedia

Beating the Petty Person: A Ritual of Hong Kong Chinese

Chien CHIAO, Department of Anthropology, ChineseUniversity of Hong Kong 1986

The Villain Hitters of CausewayBay –

StrippedPixel.com, 14 November 2013

Hong Kong’s ‘villain hitters’ use sorcery to vent political anger

The Guardian, 8 January 2017

In Chinese

[ 和平的暴力 – 打小人]

“Peaceful Violence – Beating Petty Persons” 2006

5th Inter-school Competition of Study Projects On Hong Kong’s History & Culture

Second Prize, Senior Division

CarmelPakUSecondary School

新加坡華族民間信仰:拜虎爺與打小人

華聲報2004年4月15日

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 pinkytoky

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