Saturday 7 March 2009

Chinese Voodoo Devil-Beaters

Yes, it’s that time of year again when, for a mere HK$50 (US$6), you can legally go and hang out under a dirty, crowded flyover in Wan Chai and ask some uncivilized individuals to indirectly curse someone you hate. This passionate cursing is done orally (are children allowed within earshot?) and physically using Chinese slippers or contemporary shoes with hard heels to beat pieces of paper. The South China Morning Post, in all its glorious accuracy, reports that the paper used by Devil-Beaters are “effigies”, when in fact they are just scraps of paper with a person’s name and/or birthday written on them.

The SCMP news story, dated 6 March, interviewed two Devil-Beaters:
1) “Ms Leung, who is in her 50s, complained of slow business. She said she had only had 10 to 20 customers since setting up her stall in the morning.”
2) “Ah-ching, who is in her 30s and relatively new to the business with just three years' experience, said her customers usually came to condemn "bad people" from all points of the compass.”

How does one become a recognized or qualified Chinese Voodoo Devil-Beater? Can gweilos and gweipos take this up (after all they are literally regarded as “Devils”), or can only Chinese people ply this trade? Is there a standard test that assesses oral cursing and physical beating skills? Back in 2002, the Wan Chai District Council said it wanted to regulate the practice of “Beating the Devil” and to promote it as a tourist event … but nothing came of it. Perhaps a standard licensing test for Devil-Beating could not be set up to help regulate the practice? Perhaps the Devil-Beaters themselves used their “skills” on the Wan Chai District Councillors to avoid being regulated? Or perhaps the notion of promoting Chinese cursing, shoe banging and hatred to others as a “fun tourist event” never left the table?

Also, with all these superstitions and beliefs flying around, it would seem obvious for Devil-Beaters to charge HK$44 for their services instead of HK$50? Remember, it is drummed into the Chinese that the number 4 is unlucky because in Chinese it sounds like “death”. How silly the traditions! Where individuals covet traditions when it suits them, and easily dismiss them when it inconveniences them.

Background: The ritual of “Beating the Devil” occurs during the White Tiger Festival (March) and the Hungry Ghosts Festival (August). This ritual has changed from its original form where, in traditional farming communities, the White Tiger was worshipped and its paper image placed in the house to keep out rats and snakes, to its current manifestation as a procedure to vent negative emotions (e.g. curse, revenge, anger) at one’s enemies.

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