Traditional Chinese dancers perform at the Spring Festival to mark the Chinese New Year - the Year of the Rat. The festival, held in Tshwane, was attended by government officials, representatives of political parties, universities and the media, as well as people from the business community. Picture: Supplied / SA Chinese Embassy
In the largest gathering at the ­Chinese embassy in Tshwane this weekend, over 1400 South Africans celebrated the Spring Festival in honour of the Chinese New Year, ushering in 2020 - the Year of the Rat.

The atmosphere in the embassy gardens was festive, with children and adults alike captivated by traditional cultural performances of acrobatics, martial arts, fast mask-changing, and a puppet show performed by the Sichuan Art Troupe, which made a special trip from China for the occasion.

“The Chinese Embassy is brimming with a joyful, festive, harmonious and friendly atmosphere for the most important festival in the Chinese lunar calendar - the Spring Festival,” Ambassador Lin Songtian told friends in attendance from government, Parliament, political parties, business, the media, think tanks and universities.

As guests sipped Mai Tais and tasted Chinese noodles and dumplings, ­children practised calligraphy, tried on traditional Chinese costumes, answered lantern riddles and donned stuffed pandas.

Guests were treated to a fashion show, Kung Fu, and a drum performance given by local Chinese and the Confucius Institute of the University of Johannesburg. Some even went as far as writing Spring Festival couplets and the “Fu” character, meaning happiness and blessing.

The celebration enriched the people-to-people exchanges that have been a priority of both the government of South Africa and the People’s Republic of China.

As guests watched documentary coverage of breathtaking scenery in China, there was notable interest in visiting the country, which is reciprocal, as South Africa has become the sub-Saharan African country with the largest number of Chinese tourists.

The Chinese embassy has been actively promoting and facilitating South African delegations visiting the country.

“Last year a delegation of vice-chancellors from 15 South African universities, a delegation of principals from over 25 South African elementary and secondary schools, and a delegation of young student leaders from 26 South African universities visited China,” Ambassador Lin said.

Over 70 ministerial-level delegations from China and South Africa also exchanged visits last year, and during the visit of a trade delegation to South Africa in June, companies from the two countries signed 93 agreements worth nearly $2billion (R29bn).

“Bilateral trade between China and South Africa exceeded $40bn in 2019. So far, Chinese companies have invested more than $25bn in South Africa, creating over 400000 jobs for the local people,” Ambassador Lin said.

China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for 11 years in a row, and is a major source of investment and tourism for the country.