Chingay was traditionally a form of street art in China. It was introduced to people in Malaya back in the 19th century. The word ‘chingay’ is derived from the Hokkien word ‘chin yi’, which means ‘true art’. Befitting its name, chingay requires skills, mainly skills in balancing the gigantic flags on parts of the flag bearers’ bodies.
Chingay is normally referred to as a big Chinese celebration with colourful processions and astounding balancing act using gigantic flags.
Chingay was introduced in Malaysia by the Hokkien immigrants. It was originally a Taoist festival to worship Chinese deities such as Tua Pek Kong and Kuan Yin. As Chingay was normally a religious affair, the Chinese gods were paraded in decorated floats. Nevertheless, Chingay was also held during important Chinese festivals like Chinese New Year. As the Chinese in Malaysia prospered, the parades became grander.
Traditionally the Chingay flag bearers would balance the 30-foot high flag, weighing near to 30 kilograms on their foreheads, chins, hands, feet and any part of the body. The flag bearers would also toss the flags among themselves as the procession progressed through the streets.
Over time, the focus of Chingay has changed and shifted away from its religious roots. It has grown to become a Malaysian cultural event or rather a street carnival, participated by people of all races. There are hardly any Chinese deities on decorated floats. The highlights today are the stunts with the gigantic flags.