Lanterns are hung as a form of display art to commemorate religious events or other occasions like funerals and weddings. They may be painted with different motifs depending on the occasion. Traditional motifs include deities, tigers, dragons, surnames and The Eight Immortals Passing the East Sea. Lanterns have been a part of the Chingay parade (a parade held every Chinese New Year in Singapore) since 1973, and are included in lantern displays and parades during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The making of Chinese lanterns consists of five basic steps. They are the process of ‘twisting’ (揻), ‘tying’( 扎), ‘gluing’ (糊), ‘painting’ (绘) and ‘lighting up’ (亮). The basic materials used for traditional Chinese lanterns are bamboo frames and oil-coated silk paper.
Some organisations also conduct classes teaching members of the public how to make lanterns in the run-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival. However, the lanterns made in these classes are made from red packets and cellophane, not bamboo splints.
The two types of lanterns produced in Singapore –Teochew and Foochow lanterns—differ in the frames and drawings. The most common type of Teochew lanterns are “Oval Lantern” (大何灯笼) and “Persimmon Lantern” (大柿灯笼), as named after their respective shapes. For Foochow lanterns, a common type is the “umbrella lantern” (伞灯).
According to Mr Wong Pui Fatt, Foochow lanterns usually have a cylindrical frame and the lantern can be collapsed by shifting the base plate along two parallel bars found within the centre of the frame. Teochew lantern frames do not have these bars, as the frame is woven with a mold and should support itself upon completion. Foochow lanterns also have more detailed drawings, while drawings on Teochew lanterns are made with rougher, faster strokes.