Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

'Beating the Petty Person'

Best Way to Get It Off Your Chest
Hong Kong

When it comes to dealing with a malicious co-worker or pushy family member, some of us go for confrontation. Others try to keep a philosophical distance. But for believers in the Waking of the Insects — a Chinese lunar festival in early March, observed almost exclusively in Hong Kong — there's nothing better than paying an elderly woman $6 to take her shoe and beat the pulp out of a crude paper effigy symbolizing the traducer in question.

Gu Yanzhi, 77, has been "beating petty people" for seven years at festival time. She sits beneath the Canal Road Flyover — the customary gathering point — equipped with her effigies, paper tigers (representing malevolent forces that must be placated) and an old Rockport shoe. Lines of customers form in the early morning. Crouched on plastic stools, Gu and other practitioners lay their effigies on bricks before furiously slapping them with slippers, shoes and, in some cases, high heels. Some chant "I am beating you, petty person! You have air, but you can't breathe! You have feet, but you can't walk!"

Given the financial climate, many of this year's customers have sought job-related vengeance. "Some got fired or laid off, some feel betrayed," says Gu. "They want to get back at people." Elaine Wong, a logistics saleswoman, says that the practitioners "can erase all of the devils around us."

For added malice, some practitioners use needles and blades on the effigies. But, says Chien Chiao, a Taiwan anthropologist and expert in the ritual extensively, "the purpose of beating the petty person isn't to kill someone. The purpose is to tell people to stop messing with you." Feel like outsourcing your anger? Gu has a big shoe for hire.

— with reporting by Anka Lee / Hong Kong