The Chingay evolution

Posted: 09 Feb 2017, 1000 hours (GMT +8)

Written by Cheryl Heng

If you have been living in Singapore for a while, you would have heard of Chingay. In fact the parade is so famous, it was even on the back of our $2 ship series notes.

(Source/Banknote Asia)

But did you know that Chingay had evolved over the years to keep up with changing times? Here are three times it did.

First evolution: Becoming an alternative for noise made by fireworks.

Chingay was originally a religious festival, held between the 1880s and the early 1900s, with its roots traced to China.

An article published in The Straits Times on 25 November 1902 describing the event. (Source/NLB)

They were eventually abolished after it was decided that these processions were too extravagant a practice.

Modern Chingay made its comeback only in 1973, a year after firecrackers were banned in Singapore. Firecrackers were traditionally lit during the Lunar New Year because it was believed that evil spirits were driven away by loud noises made by them. Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew brought up the idea of bringing back Chingay as he felt that a parade would help compensate for the noise and vibes of firecrackers.

The first ever Chingay Parade in 1973. (Source/NAS)

Second evolution: Becoming more inclusive.

Chingay was initially a purely Chinese event. Even the word "Chingay" has its roots in the Hokkien dialect, which refers to the Chinese art of face painting, costume and masquerade. It is also the phonetic equivalent of Chinese words "妆艺 (Zhuāng yì)", which means a decorated miniature stage or a float.

But since then, Chingay has evolved into an event known for its multicultural performances.

Chingay 2016 (Source/PA's FB Page)

In fact, Chingay has become so diverse, international acts have been invited to be part of the parade since 1987.

The Straits Times sponsored four pop singers from Tokyo to perform at Chingay 1987, making them the first international performances in Chingay. (Source/The Straits Times)

Third Evolution: Returning to its roots, the heartlands.

In the first few years of Chingay, the parade was held in heartland areas such as Toa Payoh in 1974 and Ang Mo Kio in 1984. The parade moved to the city centre in 1985 to help boost Singapore's tourism.

The very first time Chingay was held along Orchard Road. (Source/NAS)

Since then, it has been held in various places around the city centre like Chinatown and most recently, the F1 Pit. In addition, the parade was initially held in the daytime all the way until 1990.

Chingay 2011 at the F1 Pit Building. The parade moved to the Marina Bay area in 2010 to accommodate more people. (Source/NAS)

In the last two decades or so, apart from the main parade, satellite Chingay parades are also held in the heartlands to take the celebrations closer to residents. Zainul Abidin Rasheed, then-Senior Minister of State, probably said it best.

"Life in the heartlands reflects the soul of our nation. It is only natural that the colourful and vibrant Chingay Parade embodies that character and spirit. Chingay's reach out to the HDB towns and the community spreading the job of a multicultural and cosmopolitan celebration, says it all. Let's bond through the Chingay in the heartlands."

(Source/PA's FB Page)

So for those who will be missing the Chingay parade this weekend, don't fret! There is going to be a Chingay floats procession held at East Coast GRC and Fengshan on 25 February 2017. There will also be static displays of the Chingay floats held over the weekends in February and March at various neighbourhoods like Tampines, Bukit Batok and Radin Mas.


Bonus fun fact: There is a height (3.5 metres) and width (4 metres) limit to the floats, all thanks to the ERP gantries floats have to pass on the way to the heartlands.

Cover picture from Your Singapore.