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Southeast Asia: Best Place To Celebrate Chinese New Year Outside China

A worker prepares a structure of a dragon head in preparation for the upcoming Lunar New Year around the Supertrees grove observation walk at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore on January 15, 2024. Roslan RAHMAN / AFP

Chinese migration is one of the oldest and largest movements of people in the world. The latest tide lasted for over 300 years, which intensified in the sixteenth century and again in the nineteenth century due to the Opium Wars. As a result, there are about 60 million people of Chinese ethnicity living outside China today, and — this is what many Westerners don’t know — most of them are in Southeast Asia. 

Often, ethnic Chinese communities faced discrimination and hostility in their new country. Many went through periods of forced assimilation and killings. Those who have claimed the adopted country’s nationality and identity — such as Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Filipinos — are still regarded with suspicion by the Indigenous populations. In recent years, amid China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia, Chinese Southeast Asians’ loyalty to their adopted countries is again being questioned

Thus, Chinese New Year is a highly treasured time for Chinese Southeast Asians to celebrate their ancestry and, in many cases, to showcase their contributions and interactions with other social groups in their adopted country. The region comes alive and vibrant during the Chinese New Year with millions of Chinese descendants partaking in the festivities.

Let us take a look at some of the most unique Chinese New Year celebrations in Southeast Asia.

Singapore

Performers participate in the annual Chinese Lunar New Year Chingay parade in Singapore on February 3, 2023. Roslan RAHMAN / AFP

In Singapore’s Chingay Parade, people from different ethnic groups come together to celebrate Chinese New Year. The parade started in the 1970s to compensate for a firecrackers ban that had been put in place, and has now gained the reputation as one of Asia’s largest street parades. It features performers in elaborate costumes, dazzling floats, and intricate props and structures.


The Philippines

Members of a Chinese dragon dance group walk through a street filled with revelers during Lunar New Year celebrations in the Chinatown area of Manila on January 22, 2023. Ted ALJIBE / AFP

Celebrate the festival in the world’s oldest Chinatown: Binondo. This 400-year-old district in Manila is known for the country’s liveliest Chinese New Year celebrations. People would gather around lion and dragon dancers. The streets are lined with red lanterns, banners, trinkets, children’s toys, colorful animals, and fire dancers, and politicians would join in the fun by throwing money out of their vehicles.

Indonesia

In a small town in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan Province called Singkawang, residents celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year’s festivities – Chap Go Mei – with a parade called the Tatung Parade. Showcasing a distinct mix of Chinese and the native Dayaknese culture, the parade features Tatungs, people possessed by the gods who can perform extreme abilities, such as walking on swords and piercing their bodies with metal skewers, to repel evil spirits.

A man takes part in a parade with a trident piercing through his cheek during the Chap Go Meh Festival in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on February 5, 2023. Ears harpooned with massive spikes, men licking large swords, and tridents gored through cheeks — Indonesia’s once-banned mystical Lunar New Year festival Chap Go Meh returned on February 5 after a three-year pandemic pause. CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP

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