• Sun Haibin and Christian Havrehed are rowing to North America, via Japan and Korea, retracing the mythical steps of an ancient explorer
  • The boat is in Shenzhen as they await official approval to leave Chinese shores

Two rowers are preparing to embark on a mammoth journey from China to America, hoping to show that Chinese explorers could have reached the US long before the Vikings or Christopher Columbus.

Sun Haibin, 47, and Christian Havrehed, 53, met in China more than 20 years ago and crossed the Atlantic together in 2001, becoming the first from their respective countries, China and Denmark, to do so. Now, they have a more ambitious aim.

In May, they will depart from Ningbo, in Zhejiang Province, row first to Japan, then to Korea, and on to America via Alaska all the way down the coast to Mexico.

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Marking 20 years since first Chinese rower crossed the Atlantic

They first planned the expedition for 2020, but it was delayed because of Covid-19. Their boat has finally arrived in China, and they plan to leave in May.

Two stories from the history of China have inspired the pair's latest adventure, with the mythical exploits of Xu Fu in 219BC and Hui Shen more than 700 years later inspiring the journey.

Xu, a member of the court of Qin Shi Huang, was sent into the eastern seas to find the elixir of life and never returned. In 499, Hui Shen claimed to have visited Fusang, which in Chinese mythology can refer to a location east of the country.

In the 18th and 19th century there was some debate among historians that American could be Fusang, and the Frenchman Joseph de Guignes argued that Chinese explorers had reached the coast of California first.

Louis XV's cartographer, Philippe Buache, even published a map in 1753, placing Fou-sang des Chinois north of California.

While Christopher Columbus was credited with being the first European to reach America, and the Vikings certainly got there hundreds of years before him, any suggestion that Chinese explorers made the trip centuries earlier have long been dismissed by historians.

Havrehed and Sun hope that by taking the journey they can prove it might have happened and reignite some debate around the topic.

"When we rowed the Atlantic, it was basically for personal achievement. We had the opportunity to become the respective first people from our nations to do that," Sun said.

"Now, this project here, the focus is on contributing something to culture and to society with this concept of bringing history alive and carrying it out, and dissemination of the history.

"So that changes the nature of the challenge. It also brings more responsibility to deliver the narrative in a good manner."

Havrehed and Sun will row with Yuta Fujikawa from Japan, and they are still searching for a Korean teammate too, so the crew represents all the countries they plan to visit.

"We come from different cultures," Havrehed said. "I think providing an environment and providing a narrative that allows for different cultures will increase the value of the expedition and the narrative around the expedition, make it more interesting for more people, and it will also provide learning."

All-female quartet out to become China's first team to row the Atlantic

Although their vessel is designed to cross oceans, the team will hug the shoreline as they make their way up Japan, then Korea, island hopping to Alaska and down the coast of America.

Last year, Havrehed became the first person to row around Denmark, to prove the concept of the coastal row works.

However, the most imminent challenge is bureaucracy. They need special permission to row out of China.

"There is a lot of good will towards this project," Havrehed said. "But what needs to happen is someone with influence needs to give permission."

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

2023-03-18T04:06:22Z dg43tfdfdgfd