Row-boat to China: in pursuit of education, peace & to re-write history


In 2001, Christian Havrehed, graduate in Chinese Studies from Durham University (& who studied with Chopsticks Club’s Joint CEO, H-J), was “crazy enough” to enter the Ward-Evans Cross-Atlantic Rowing Challenge. Together with Chinese athlete, Sun Haibin, Christian took 63 days to reach Barbados from Tenerife in their boat called Yantu, meaning ‘along the way.’ Their journey was one of physical strength & mental endurance as well as a cross-cultural success story. It also met their vision that “合作可以更多” – together, we can achieve much more.

On 08/08/20, a most auspicious date* in Chinese culture, Christian will once again push off in a row-boat, this time from Lowestoft Marina, Suffolk on a ‘reverse Viking row’ back to his home in Denmark. The journey should take 4-6 days. The purpose? Whilst essentially it is to enable Christian to take delivery of his new boat, this trip is preparation for a much bigger adventure to follow in the summer of 2021. With his old friend Sun Haibin, who now runs an elite athlete sports & adventure company in China, the pair will row from Ningbo in Eastern China to Japan in the wake of Xu Fu, alchemist to the first Emperor, Qin Shihuang. According to historical records, to satisfy the Emperor’s insatiable demand to find the elixir of immortality, court alchemist, Xu Fu, claimed that he could find it & persuaded the Emperor to part with money, equipment & young children to be used as a trade bargain. Temples bearing Xu Fu’s name are littered across Japan’s east coast. 

Christian, who has been re-tracing and exploring Chinese exploration since 2001, would like to prove a bold claim that, when going east, Xu Fu actually made it to America before Columbus. He is researching this thesis with the support of the Needham Institute in Cambridge. “If the winds, tides & currents could have taken him on to America, then he would likely have gone there otherwise he would have faced execution by Emperor Qin who could easily have tracked him down in Japan on discovering that he was, as legend has it, been “nothing more than a scoundrel,” postulates Christian. 

"This row is a good preparation for the South China Sea," he adds. Proud of his Viking heritage, he is keen to establish beyond reasonable doubt whether the Chinese, like the Vikings, made it to the US before Columbus. “I believe that history can be brought alive through the medium of adventure,” he continues.  The row to Denmark in August and then from China to Japan next year will raise profile and money for United World Colleges, a network of schools around the globe whose mission it is to “make education a force to unite people, nations & culture for peace and a sustainable future." Christian was a 6th-form pupil at UWC in Cardiff.

Chopsticks Club has been promoting bi-lateral relations for decades. Now, through our educational charity, Engage with China, we are proud to be the Campaign Partner for the Yantu Project. Along with Christian, we believe that through education, young people should be made more aware of the world we live in today and that deeper cross-cultural understanding is a necessary and valuable medium for promoting peace. Never has this mission been more important than it is right now.

Joint CEOs, H-J & Theresa Booth, will be at Lowestoft Marina to wave Christian off with his 4-man crew. The captain of this journey, Chris Martin, of New Ocean Wave Ltd, is the first person to row solo across both the Atlantic & the Pacific Oceans. 

Follow more of this story at on Twitter @engage_china or on Facebook @engagewithchina

*8, sound ‘ba’, is the luckiest number in China as it sounds like the word for fortune, ‘fa’