It’s time for preemptive voodoo dumplings!
My younger, university age students couldn’t tell me anything about this, but my older students (over 45) got the biggest kick out of explaining it — it was the same with Mr. Sòng two Spring Festivals ago when they invited us over for dinner on 初五，the 5th day of Spring Festival.
Traditionally on the 5th day of Spring Festival (初五), no one visits anyone in the evening and parents would make their kids come back before dark. The evening of the 5th day is for “beating the petty people” (打小人), who, my students explained, are those infuriating neighbours or coworkers who oppose you in secret, messing up your affairs without you knowing who’s behind it. So there’s a whole traditional custom during Spring Festival using dumplings as voodoo dolls to preemptively give trouble to anyone who might secretly give you trouble in the new year.
Chūwǔ (初五), like chúxī (除夕), is an evening of dumplings and fireworks. According to this tradition, the dumplings and fireworks on chūwǔ are for beating your future petty people. Specifically:
- 剁小人 duò xiǎorén. Chopping up the jiǎozi filling (always chopped very fine) is “chopping petty people.”
- 捏小人的嘴 niē xiǎorénde zuǐ. Pinching the dumplings closed is “pinching petty people’s mouths.”
- 崩小人 bēng xiǎorén (zēn xiǎorén in Tianjin dialect). Lighting off firecrackers is “exploding petty people.” This is harder to translate exactly; “给他们崩走” is the example my students used, meaning something like “explode them away” as in scaring them off with the explosion (as opposed to blowing them to pieces).
- 踩小人 cǎi xiǎorén. Apparently you can also draw a picture of a “petty person” on the bottom of your socks and “step on petty people.”
Hong Kong is famous for 打小人 as a paid service — you go under overpasses and pay someone to chop for you.
Other stuff about “beating petty people” in China:
Other stuff about celebrating Chinese New Year’s:
- Enjoying 福 (fú) and the inner circle of Chinese life
- I pity the fú
- ‘Tis the season for… RED PANTIES!
- The Nian monster is coming! Better get some red underwear!
- Sharing Chinese New Year’s with the neighbours
- Happy New Year! Congratulations for not being eaten!
- Chinese New Year: a Passover?
- Happy New Year! (Taibei 2006)