Chingay Parade (South East Asia)

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The Chingay Parade is an annual street parade held in Malaysia and Singapore in celebration with the birthdays of the Chinese deities or the procession of the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin) as part of the Chinese New Year festivities.[1] The term Chingay itself originated from the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, which is a phonetic equivalent of both the Chinese words "真艺" (zhēnyì) which means "true art" in the Penang version, and "妆艺," (zhuāngyì) which means "a decorated miniature stage" or float in the Singapore version. PAYM (People's Association Youth Movement) has been an active contributor to chingay in Singapore. Today the parade is celebrated by the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities of both Malaysia and Singapore.[2]


Chingay procession was held in celebration with the birthdays of the Chinese deities or the procession of the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin). It was held to worship and enjoy with the deity. During the earliest procession in more than 100 years ago, the earliest English newspapers Echo in Malaysia adopted the word Chingay Procession for this special event.[3]

Chingay originated from China, and the Penang Chinese first performed Chingay during deity processions.[4] It is a street art where the performer balances a giant flag that ranges from 25 to 32 feet (7.6 to 9.8 m) in height and about 60 pounds (27 kg) in weight.

Today, in Malaysia and Singapore, Chingay is not only performed by the Chinese, but the art has successfully attracted the Malays and Indians. It has become a unique multiracial performance. The popularity of Chingay in Penang has made it one of the very impressive cultural landmarks as well as an important tourist attraction.[5]

Chingay in Penang[edit]

The Chingay Parade traces its origins to a float decorating competition held in Penang in 1905. This practice of float decoration spread to the rest of Malaya by the 1960s, and eventually became associated with the Chinese New Year.

The second Chingay procession was held in 1926 in celebration of the birthday of the God of Prosperity. The third Chingay procession was held in 1957 to celebrate the centenary of the City Council of George Town, Penang.

In the pursuit of ensuring the perpetual existence of Chingay, Chinese community in Malaysia worked hand in hand to call for the enthusiasts of various areas in forming the liaison committee of Penang Chingay in 1960s.[6]

Chingay in Johor Bahru[edit]

The Johor Bahru Chingay Parade has a 140-year history. To begin with the word Chingay must be explained. The two characters Ching and Gay (庄艺) is the Min Nan dialect (including Teochew) for ‘the Art of Decorating (or Make-up). Johor Bahru residents have rarely referred to their annual parade of the deities as Chingay Parade. This name is mostly used by the non-Chinese speaking public; probably due to the non-religious fancy parades in Penang and later in Singapore. Although the decorated floats and painted Chinese folk-characters are part and parcel of this annual parade, the main theme actually is the procession of the Five Deities from the five main dialect-groups of Johor Bahru. Thus for a JB resident, especially the Chinese-educated, this annual parade is always termed ‘YOU-SHEN’ (游神) or ‘Parade of the Deities’. As the principal deity in the Johor Bahru Old Temple is Yuan Tian Shang Di which the Teochews call Tua Lau Ya, this festival is still referred to by the Teochews as ‘Yia Lau Ya’ (in Mandarin Yin Lao Ye—营老爷) which in Teachew patois means ‘carrying and parading the Lau Ya’. This sets it apart from the non-religious ‘Chingays’ of Singapore and Penang which are annual parades of a festival nature to cater for tourists and to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The JB You Shen is held annually on the 20th to the 22nd day of the First Month of the Lunar New Year also as part of the Lunar New Year celebration and as a harbinger of peace and prosperity for the coming year for the town. This annual event is inextricably linked to the Old Temple at Jalan Trus. The exact date of the origin of this temple is rather hazy; but there are two artifacts within that pointed to its existence 140 years ago; one plaque bears the words "8th year of the Tongzhi era" (1870) and a bell has the engraving "13th year of the Tongzhi era" (1875). Historical records uncovered in the even older fane in Kangkar Tebrau shows that the early Teochew kangchu or River-mouth Chief (this kangchu and kangkar-system was innovated by Sultan Abu Bakar to encourage Chinese immigrants to settle inland to cultivate virgin land, which is why to this day there are numerous kangkars all over Johor which are rural Chinese settlements). Then the most convenient mode of transport was by the river and hence riparian settlements sprouted up at river-mouths and estuaries; but due to the proliferation of diseases such as malaria and also the dangers of wild animals and crocodiles, Tan Khai Soon the original kangchu of this old fane moved down to Tanjung Petri just at about the same time when Sultan Abu Bakar had commissioned the ‘Yap Ah Loy’ of Johor Bahru; Wong Ah Fook to build the new capital. And so the old deity in Kangkar Tebrau, the Yuan Tian Shang Di found a new abode at the Jalan Trus Temple. As Johor Bahru was mostly populated by Teochews in its early history, naturally the Teochew faction dominated the cultural, social and religious aspects of the day-to-day life of JB Chinese community. As time went on the other dialect groups started to settle in JB and so with them came the deities they worshipped; this is common practice among Chinese communities overseas; they tend to bring their respective village or clan deities to the new lands they emigrated in order to seek the blessing and protection of their ‘patron saints’.

Today the JB Old Temple has five main deities for the five main dialect-groups: Yuan Tian Shang Di (元天上帝) or Tua Lau Ya (大老爷)for the Teochews, Hong Xian Da Di (洪天大帝) for the Hokkiens, Gan Tian Da Di (感天大帝) for the Hakkas, Hua Guang Da Di (华光大帝) for the Cantonese and Zhao Da Yuan Shuai (赵大元帅) for the Hainanese. These deities each has its own ‘birthdays’ which are also celebrated on that particular day in the Old Temple or in some specific fanes dedicated to it, elsewhere. After the five deities were enthroned in the Old Temple, the five clans formed a Chinese community organisation called the Hua Qiao Gong Suo (华侨公所) or Overseas Chinese Community Hall which was later transformed into the present-day Tiong Hua Association (中华公会) in 1945. It is this umbrella-organisation that oversees all the activities if the Old Temple and governs all the rituals, rules and owns its assets (including burial grounds, crematorium and funeral parlours). The direct body that runs the Old Temple is the Johor Old Temple Management Committee which is under the parent organisation. As the parent body of the Five Clans the Tiong Hua Association therefore takes the lead in unifying the Chinese clans in Johor Bahru and through festivities like the You Shen Parade, fosters inter-clan cooperation and unity. The festivities begins each year on the morning or noon of the 19th day when a troop of gong-bearers adorned with a divine banner will be seen walking and clanging the gongs along the entire parade route to ‘wash the way’. On the 20th day of the Lunar Calendar robust young men will then enter the Old Temple at the opportune time in the morning to prepare the deities for their annual journey; this preparation is elaborate and only the real experts are qualified to tie the sedans and fasten the idols so that they will not drop during the jostling and tussling when borne. Having secured the idols to the stable and lofty positions then each of the sedans is carried out by robust devotees onto Jalan Trus amidst the shouts of ‘Huat-ah’ or ‘Heng-ah’ (Prosperity-ho! Fortune-ho!). These sedans are then carried on a straight journey to be placed at the Jalan Ngee Heng Shen Chang (神厂) or Deities’ Depot for general worship.

On the 21st day at about 7 in the evening is the grand parade; all the devotees and those with designated tee-shirts of the respective associations will then enter the Deities’ Depot to lift their respective deities for the night parade; this will be accompanied by troupes of opera characters, musical bands, lion-dancers, dragon dancers, decorated floats, acrobats, stilt-walkers, big-headed dolls, giant flags and many other groups to entertain the town-folks who by then will line along the entire route eagerly awaiting the deities to pass; for the more devoted and superstitious each time a sedan passes by they will clasp their palms in prayer and yell Heng-ah or Huat-ah. The order of the procession is always predetermined; the first deity to lead the parade will be Zhao Da Yuan Shuai of the Hainanese clan, followed by Hua Guang Da Di (Cantonese), then Gan Tian Da Di (Hakka), Hong Xian Da Di (Hokkien) and the last to round up the back is the main deity Yuan Tian Shang Di (Teochew). This last deity is given the most revered position at the back and for good reasons and good sense too; this deity is always followed by an army of joss-stick wielding devotees all humbly following the entire route; in days of yore it was not uncommon to see some weaker old women hiring trishaws to follow and fulfill their vows! All told the number of people involved in this gigantic festival numbers about 200,000! This unquestionably is the largest annual festival in Johor Bahru. The entire journey is about 10 kilometres and due to its snaky and winding route and stoppages at pivotal points such as the town centre and the Royal Dais, the parade will only grind to a halt back at the Depot in the wee hour of the morning, usually around 1 a.m. when the tired young men will call it a night. The route of the night parade is different from those of the ‘Coming-Out-of-Palace‘ and ‘Going-Back-to-the-Divine-Abode’ parades. These two journeys are more direct and shorter. Upon the return of the Deities to their Divine abodes, then will JB residents finally feel that the Chinese New Year is indeed over!

For those who have not witnessed this unique JB phenomenon, the experience can be intimidating and sometimes amusing! When the divine sedans are carried for the three journeys, robust devotees, usually young men with bravado will jostle, push and shove for a hold on the sedans and it is not uncommon that they will end up with bruises, sprains and other minor injuries! With this jostling and shoving, the sedans will rock wildly and violently, sometimes even keeling over to knock at the devotees or bystanders! The believers insist that the sedans rocked because of the deities’ mood and the jostling for positions is to steady and keep them firm.

This annual parade has become a symbol of Chinese culture, attracting researchers, scholars, journalists and historians from Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and even China, to come and study this unique practice which is far more elaborate than similar You Shen festivals in China itself, the place of origin!

Chingay in Singapore[edit]

Singapore Chingay parade in 2005

On 4 February 1973, the first Singapore Chingay parade was held partly as a result of the ban on firecrackers a year earlier in 1972 as a result of fire hazards. This ban was viewed unfavourably despite the safety issues involved. Some people felt that the ban would result in a much dampened festival mood for the Chinese New Year period. To address this issue, the People's Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Association jointly organised a street parade from Jalan Besar to Outram Park featuring the signature floats, acrobatic acts, lion and dragon dances, stilt walkers, and the like, to bring back some cheer to the general public.

The largely Chinese parade became a multi-cultural one from 1977 when Malay and Indian groups started joining in the performances, which was to mark a major precedent in the overall flavour of the parade into one which has become largely multi-cultural in character, despite the continued presence of traditional Chinese acts such as lion dances and stilt walkers to this day.

In 1985, the parade marched down Orchard Road for the first time, a move which was to prevail for much of the parade's subsequent history. Although the change could be attributed to the desire of organisers in bringing it closer to tourists along the major tourist belt and for ease of organisation on a relatively long and straight stretch of road, it also further signified the increasingly desinicized character of the parade. This is further evidenced when in 1987, an international flavour was added to the parade when a group from Japan participated for the first time with their float sponsored by The Straits Times.

The Chingay Parade became an evening-to-night parade in 1990, changing the overall feel of the parade towards one in which lights and pyrotechnics dominate. In 2000, the parade was shifted out of Orchard Road to the Civic District centering at City Hall, an area steeped in Singaporean history and culture. Construction works at the City Hall area resulted in the parade marching through the streets of the Chinatown district for the first time. Faced with limited space for spectator stands and a much more complicated and winding route in these locations, however, the parade moved back to Orchard Road in 2004 along with an effort to introduce audience participation and involvement in the traditionally passive parade. Firecrackers were let off for the first time in the parade that year. Despite the authorities allowing the firecrackers to be let off under some safety procedures, it was decided that the Chingay be preserved. In 2008, the parade was once again held at City Hall, with the route lasting from the City Hall building to The Esplanade. For the 2009 parade, it was centralised around Parliament House with the performers going around the Padang and also featured a magical Grand Finale (MAGICBOX@Chingay 2009). That year was also the first year that the telecast on television was delayed by one day. In 2010, the parade took place on part of the Formula One Marina Bay Street Circuit route.

Post-parade street parties have been held since 2004, with the exception of 2007. An estimated 150,000 spectators attended the 2009 Chingay Parade on February 1. One million Singaporeans watched the parade on television and another 16.3 million homes and hotels across Asia received the television broadcast through Channel NewsAsia.

The 2011 Chingay Parade was held on the 11 and 12 February. It opened with a Fire Party, and included the largest moving multi-ethnic performances, the first travelling dance competition within the parade, a spectacular finale where thousands of performers flooded the parade ground holding candle lights and an inaugural colourful Arts District/ Carnival.[7] It also included activities in which the public could participate, such as the Teresa Teng Look-Alike Photo Contest[8] and the Chingay Paparazzi competition.[9]

The 2013 Chingay parade was held on the 22nd and 23rd of February.

In 2014, Chingay was held on February 7 and 8 at the F1 Pit Building. Some 70,000 individuals ushered in The Year of the Horse.[10]

The 2015 Chingay will involve some 11,000 performers from 150 organisations, including 760 overseas performers from 15 groups, in the largest celebration yet. Themed "We love Singapore(SG)", the main Chingay 2015 will be held at the F1 Pit Building on February 27 and 28, while a street party along Orchard Road involving youths will be held on March 1.[11]


  1. ^ Chingay Parade in Singapore
  2. ^
  3. ^ Penang Chingay Association (2007). Penang Chingay Association
  4. ^ Penang State Tourism Development & Culture (2009). Chingay
  5. ^ Penang State Tourism Development & Culture (2009). Chingay
  6. ^ Penang Chingay Association (2007). 40 years ago, a group of Chinese community leaders.
  7. ^ Chingay 2011 Singapore highlights Archived July 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Yeo, Sam Jo (18 October 2013). "Chingay 2014 to be biggest and most colourful yet". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "Chingay 2015 will be grandest ever". Singapore Press Holdings. The New Paper. 19 October 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 

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