Chingay is a celebration of historical importance and was started in the 19th century. In the 1880's, this event was recorded by a European rnissionary and left a vivid description of the 19th century chingay. A 'Chinese decorated float' for which Penang was to become famous at the turn of the century with its giant flags processions.
In Pre-war years, when Malaya was enjoying a period of peace and prosperity, the chingay became a spectacular event to commemorate this civil order and return of peace after five hard and dominating years of the Japanese rule. The chingay was defined as a sort of stage, borne on the shoulders of men, on which is a gorgeous representation of some historical scene, a decorated chinese style'.
The chingay is a spectacular procession and hold all spectators in awe. In theory, a chingay flag is merely a giant triangular flag, between 25-40 feet in height, made of silk, where, on one side of the flag was fixed to a giant bamboo pole carried perpendicularly by a stalwart bearer with half-a-dozen others taking turn.
Great skill is required to balance this fluttering flag. A skilled chingay man must be very fit as chingay requires the mighty strength of brawny biceps and incredibly supple limbs as well as powers of physical co-ordination and lightning reflexes.
A strip of transparent silk steaming from the top of the bamboo down to the ground enhances its gracefulness, and this silk trails as far behind as 35 feet. Therefore, a chingay man besides performing stunts, must not let this soft material drapes itself around and entangles him. Also, if the flagpole seems like falling at any time, the other team members will move in to prevent it from crashing on to the onlookers and spectators or objects which may be in its path.
When the stalwart chingay bearer of the moment is tired, his colleagues will relieve him of the heavy weight of the flag and resuming the procession without a halt. It takes great strength to master the intricacies of supporting the flagpole and holding it aloft for all to see and admire.
The chingay bearer is often likened to a talented acrobat. He delights his audience by performing a variety of stunts. Firstly, he will support the tall bamboo shaft on the palm of one hand or if he is less skilful, he will grip it tightly with both hands. Next, he will shift the pole onto his forehead, shoulder, elbow and hold it there for many suspenseful and agonisingly long seconds. Other participants in chingay have attempted to place the base of the flagpole into their mouths.
There are also different performers accompanying the chingay participants. And these include wildly animated lion dancers, fan-waving clowns and girl trick cyclists. A band of musicians playing chinese instruments help to enhance further its spectators.
Chingay's popularity has grown during the past three decades and today, chingay festivities are held in Malaysian towns as well as in Singapore. (Penang still remained the most famous in Malaysia.)
In 1976, a well-organised Chingay goodwill delegation went to Australia to perform in Adelaide (the twin city of Penang founded by William Light). By achieving that, the chingay participants had managed to encourage foreigners besides the Malaysians, to enjoy and participate in one of our oldest games.
In 1981, the Nanyang Wushu Federation of Sarawak formed its own chingay troupes to perform at its seventh anniversary. The troupe is the first of its kind in Sarawak.