Siu Yan

by William B. Guthrie

Unlike the Irish, for South Chinese, the Little People are the really big people — often neighbors — who are out of favor. Specifically, they are the victims of someone's curses.

A curse can be made by a Da Siu Yan ("Little People Hitter"), or the curse can be do-it-yourself. The Da Siu Yan is usually a woman. Her equipment is simple: the food, incense and written prayers of ordinary ancestor worship. Except the prayer is that the mentioned person should have bad luck, usually some specific inconvenience. It is easier — especially for a Gwai Lo (the writer and most readers are Gwai Lo — "Foreign Ghosts," sometimes translated also as demons or devils) to buy the spell at a paper goods store (see dzi dzat) or find an appropriate spell in a Chinese almanac.

The Da Siu Yan is still a professional class in Hong Kong, but if the guild is still alive in Macau it is not easily visible. There is a seasonal cursing that is still practiced in Macau.

Little Man curses seem not to be severe ones. The object does not seem to be death or damnation. Perhaps that is because of the rather mechanical nature of Chinese magic. Its application is a technology, and so is its reversal or defeat. One of the most impolite (but common) public artifacts of the Hac Tao and the Da Siu Yan is the pakua and its variants, or even the simple mirror. The presence of the mirror usually suggests a belief in a curse, or at least in bad luck proceeding from the direction indicated by the mirror. The mirror's meaning is as simple as the childhood rhyme "I'm rubber, you're glue..." and the curser becomes the cursed.

There is also a simple technology for attacking the curser, the Little People Hitter. In Macau, at least, little paper tigers are sold. They are yellow paper, with stripes and features printed black. People who think they are cursed thump the little paper tigers and say, "da siu yan," believing that the curser will himself be harmed.