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Mar 4, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Chingay

Parade of Dreams and Culture: PA's first Chingay procession on 4 February, 1973.
Nostalgia friends with fond memories of Chingay in Singapore over the years to remember.

The spectators watching the Chingay Parade from above and below.


Source: Parade of Dreams and Culture: PA's first Chingay procession
Event date: 04-Feb-1973

The first Chingay organised by the People’s Association (PA) in Singapore was held on 4 February 1973. This event was a joint effort between the People’s Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation to celebrate Chinese New Year. The idea first originated with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who proposed it to the deputy chairman of the People’s Association, Jek Yeun Thong. It was hoped that the gaiety of the Chingay would lessen the dampened festive spirit as a result of the commencement of the Dangerous Fireworks Act on 1 August 1972, which prohibited the possession and discharging of firecrackers.

Origins

Chingay was a common sight in Singapore in colonial times. It is generally believed that Chingay is derived from the Hokkien name tsng-gē. When translated into English, tsng-gē means, “to make up and ornament this frame”.
 
The Chinese in Singapore were holding Chingay for religious purposes as early as the 19th century, with the first known procession held in 1840 to welcome the arrival of the deity Ma Zhu Po from China. During those times, Chingays were large religious processions held by the different Chinese dialect groups to honour their deities. The Teochews, Hakkas, Cantonese, and Hainanese would combine their contingents annually to transport their deities from one place to another; a process that was believed to bring peace and prosperity. The Hokkiens did likewise once every three years.
 
Funds for the procession were generated through donations by people from all walks of life, from merchants to coolies. On the actual day, the procession would wind through districts that had donated the money; accompanied by beautiful girls wearing silk dresses, silk banners and also groups of dressed-up performers.
 
In the early 20th century, Chingay was also held by the Straits Chinese to celebrate special occasions. For example, the Straits Chinese joined hands with the other Chinese communities of that time to hold a grand Chingay for the coming of His Royal Highness, Prince Arthur of Connaught, in February 1906.

The first time

With such a rich cultural history behind Chingay, the PA responded positively to Lee’s suggestion, believing that Chingay would help to represent and preserve Chinese heritage in Singapore. Hence, a two-mile long Chingay procession, featuring 2,000 participants from various pugilistic and cultural associations, was organised. The entire procession took approximately four hours to complete the parade route. It started from the Victoria School at 11:00 am and passed along Victoria Road, Tyrwhitt Road, Allenby Road, Jalan Besar, Bencoolen Street, Bras Basah Road, North Bridge Road, South Bridge Road, Upper Cross Street, New Bridge Road, Outram Road, then finally ended at the Outram Park.
 
There were altogether 14 items in the procession. Highlights included a float bearing the statue of a bull and two giant ornamental firecrackers leading the procession. This signified the ushering in of the Year of the Ox. It was followed by the antics of the Southern and Northern Chinese lion dancers. The stilt walkers dressed themselves in ancient Chinese costumes with ceremonial caps and long flowing white beards and demonstrated their acrobatic antics. Jugglers from the Folk Acrobatic Troupe did likewise by exchanging their staffs and spears with each other in spilt second precision. Meanwhile, the cycling team each sat on their own unicycles while juggling fire wheels.
 
The most comical item was the clowns, also known as “big head” dolls. In their baggy costumes and masks that look like big heads, these clowns entertained the crowds with their slapstick comedy acts. This was followed by the big flag performance. Although the flag performers encountered some difficulty in navigating their 20ft long flags passed the telephone wiring overhead, they succeeded in doing so eventually and received applause from the spectators. The end of the procession was a group of drama troupe members from the Kampong Glam Community Center, who had dressed themselves up gaily as personalities such as doctors, soldiers, satay sellers, sailors, labourers and priests.
 
Shortly after the event, The Straits Times invited members of the public to give their feedback on 7 February. The response was unexpectedly overwhelming. Most of the public commented on the gaiety of the event and how enjoyable the performances were. Tourists were equally attracted to the strong cultural atmosphere. Many also wrote in to suggest turning Chingay into an annual event and to add variety by inviting different racial groups to join in. Other suggestions included the addition of major housing estates in the parade route and the complete blockage of traffic instead of closing one lane only.
 
With the encouragement and support from the public, Jek announced on 4 April 1973 that Chingay would be included in the Chinese New Year celebrations for the following year. Since then, Chingay has become an annual event in Singapore and is always held during the 15th day of the Chinese New Year period.
 
In 1977, Indian and Malay cultural dances were incorporated, officially turning it into an event that showcased Singapore’s multiculturalism. In 1985, Orchard Road became the parade route. Foreign participation started in 1987 with the appearance of four Japanese artistes. In 1990, Chingay made its first evening debut with glittering floats and shimmering costumes as the highlights.
 
In recent years, PA has also worked closely with the Singapore Tourism Board to promote Chingay as “the grandest street parade in Singapore”. The name gained such recognition that several suggestions by the public to change the name of Chingay were officially rejected. Chingay is now an iconic name associated with the celebration of the multicultural and cosmopolitan spirit in Singapore and remains a highlight of the annual Chinese New Year celebrations. 

Chingay 2012
Courtesy of Lawrence Lim

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2 Comments:

Blogger lim said...

In my opinion, Chingay has lost its meaning. The organizer should reappraise the whole staging of the event and bring it back to its root. Having a token make-up parade around the housing estates only exposes the organizer's guilt feelings.

March 11, 2012 at 8:00 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

This is your personal perception from your perspective, Mr Lim.

As we have seen the Chingay over the decades, the changes in the programs every year to suit the tastes of the spectators of every generation.

The ways done in the past from Chingay Parade to Chingay Procession 2012 had evolved with more color, flavor and entertainment items to the housing estates residents, especially the young.

The main purpose to have an annual celebration to bring joy and community activities and events to the masses and members of the public, including the tourists and visitors.

Twenty years down the road, traditional Chingay events would be a fond nostalgic memories for the present of the past in future.

Like your awesome collection of great photo masterpieces on pBase for the benefit of descendents for posterity. Keep up your great job, Mr Lim.

March 12, 2012 at 10:37 AM  

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