Under the flyover at Canal road and Russell street, below the towering skyscrapers of Causeway Bay, five old ladies slam slippers against bricks, beating small pieces of paper back to the pulp they once were.
They are performing a quintessential Hong Kong ritual that translates to “villain hitting”, where people come to repel the figures of bad luck and wrongdoing in their lives. Vengeful mistresses, “jealous wives”, and employees looking to expel a rotten superior from the office are some of their most common clients.
Two of the older ladies performing the rituals, Leung and Aunt Yan, have set up their shrines solo. They seem to have a bit of a grudge against the other three ladies who sit together in the centre of the platform. Leung and Aunt Yan independently tell me that the ladies in the centre just want to get rich and that is“no good”.
“Those ladies convince people that they need all kinds of services, up to HK$500,” warns Yan, “I only ask HK$50 to hit and HK$50 to ask the Kwun Yam for good fortune, that is all that is necessary most of the time.”
Leung, who is 82, will not tell me her full name. “If I do that, my competitors”, she says, motioning towards the three ladies in a row, “may find out, and that way they can use my name to demon-hit and negatively affect my business.”
“So you really believe in the rituals?” I ask.
Leung does not directly answer me, she says that people come back to her over and over, happy with their results, so that is what matters to her. “You know, I am famous all over China for my hitting” says Leung from behind a nearly toothless smile.
Dr. Joseph Bosco, an expert on religion in Hong Kong and South China, says that Leung’s and Yan’s analysis of their work is typical of Hong Kong spirituality.
“Even Hong Kong residents who consult other types of fortune tellers often go to such diviners with a mixture of skepticism and credulity and curiosity. So it is hard to talk about it as a matter of ‘faith.’ Only Christianity and Islam focus on ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ as markers of belonging. Chinese and other popular religions tend to focus on efficacy, and tradition.”
According to Bosco, old ladies have been villain hitting under the flyover since the 1980’s, and it wasn’t new then. This modern variation of the service had humble beginnings: “In the past, when people lived in more densely networked communities and neighbourhoods, there would be people who were known to offer such services in the neighbourhood, and took only donations, with no set price” says Bosco.
The ladies at Canal Street serve strangers, old friends, and tourists alike. These women clearly have a conscience about their work, and hitting for strangers complicates this. Leung has a special pair of dice that she rolls to determine whether the individual in question is actually a “bad person”.
If the person is not bad, and if there are no inauspicious spirits to repel, Leung will suggest a ritual to promote good luck.
While chief executive Donald Tsang was in office, it became extremely popular to ‘hit’ the chief executive. Tsang now sits in a cell in Stanley prison, serving a 20 month sentence for corruption.
Leung says she will no longer accept requests to hit politicians, “They are public officers with important roles, I think it is not good to hit them”.
Aunt Yan exercises her conscience in a somewhat motherly way. A woman in her 20s came to Yan to ask that her manager who had “scolded her many times without reason” be fired. After the second visit, he was indeed fired.
The young woman returned to thank Yan near the end of the lunar year. “It is not good to be fired just before the lunar holidays, he may have a family to support” says Yan. “So I asked the young lady to light two incense for Kwun Yam – one to secure her own good fortune, and one for the manager to make sure he and his family will be okay.”
Leung, who has been hitting and blessing for a decade, has her own stroke of grandmotherly wisdom. When I ask if she would use the service herself, she replies, “I have Kwun Yam to bless my soul, I don’t need to hit bad people. The main thing is that you are kind-hearted, that way you don’t need to pay attention to the bad people in your life. Just be kind-hearted.”
Translations by Kim Wan