UJ’s Chinese Lantern Festival – an enriching cultural experience

The University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute (UJCI) hosted the Lantern Festival held on the occasion of the Chinese New Year. The carnival held on Friday, 2 March 2018, in Auckland Park, provided an opportunity for students to get acquainted with China’s culture, habits and traditions over various historical eras.

As China is a vast country with a long history and diverse cultures, Lantern Festival customs and activities vary regionally including lighting and enjoying floating, fixed, held, and flying lanterns; appreciating the bright full moon, setting off fireworks, flying drones, guessing riddles written on lanterns, eating tangyuan, lion dances, dragon dances, Wushu and walking on stilts.

Prof Saurabh Sinha, UJ’s DVC: Research and Internationalisation expressed happiness for the GES Institute to host the event and its continuous support by teaching the Chinese language and raising awareness about Chinese ethos and civilization. Prof Sinha also expressed the vision of bringing the University of Johannesburg into the fourth industrial revolution and leading it, as well as China’s role in this in terms of research collaboration and technology transfers.

Official guests of the event were Deputy Chinese Consul General, Ren Xiaoxia; Prof Andre Swart, Executive Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences. The Deputy Consul-General gave a keynote speech speaking to the strengths of the of the South Africa-China relationship, which is turning 20 this year. She spoke on the growth of trade volumes between the two states, and drew some similarities in the two cultures: Ubuntu and Confucianism.

Demonstrations by the UJCI’s Mandarin Lecturers, Michele Liu and Sun Wei, told this important holiday from the perspective of their lived experiences..

Ms Liu explained that in ancient China, the Lantern Festival is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love and affection between lovers. “It was once customary for single people to carry lit lanterns on the street in hopes of finding their true love. The brightest lanterns symbolised good luck.”

The popular event featured members of the Chinese Club and students affiliated with the Confucius Institute presenting impressive traditional demonstrations that illustrate the dynamism of Chinese culture. The celebrations also saw the welcoming of the new Chinese Co-Director: Prof Peng Yi, from Nanjing University who took office at the beginning of February 2018. “It is a tremendous honour to be a part of this leading university. I believe our institute and such festivities can improve cultural communication between China and the world. It is our wish for communities globally to explore how the Chinese celebrations are celebrated and to discover why such festivals are significant to people of Chinese descent, “said Prof Peng.

Celebrations included different activities such as sugar art, bamboo carving, face changing, drum performances and the Xinjiang Dance performance to name a few.

Lantern Festival Facts

  • Popular Chinese name: 元宵节 Yuánxiāojié /ywen-sshyaoww jyeah/ ‘first night festival’
  • Alternative Chinese name: 上元节 Shàngyuánjié /shung-ywen-jyeah/ ‘first first festival’
  • Date: Lunar calendar month 1 day 15 (March 2, 2018)
  • Importance: ends China’s most important festival, the Spring Festival
  • Celebrations: enjoying lanterns, lantern riddles, eating tangyuan a.k.a. yuanxiao (ball dumplings in soup), lion dances, dragon dances, etc.
  • History: about 2,000 years
  • Greeting: Happy Lantern Festival! 元宵节快乐!Yuánxiāojié kuàilè! /ywen-sshyaoww-jyeah kwhy-luh/


General Ren Xiaoxia
Deputy Chinese-Consul General Ren Xiaoxia


Chinese Festival David Monyae

Dr. David Monyae, UJCI Co-Director
Chinese Festival Saurabh Sinha
Prof Saurabh Sinha,
UJ’s DVC: Research and Internationalisation
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