Culture and rowing at Chinese university race
The colourful flash of foreign uniforms and the clatter of coxswains’ calls in a half dozen different languages – the unmistakable sights and sounds of a race with global reach – were on full display at this year’s Zhengzhou Longzi Lake University Regatta in China.
This year’s race, in the heart of Henan Province, was once again a success with university crews from eight visiting nations (Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland) facing off against Chinese universities. Junior rowers from American, Belgian and Dutch clubs also raced in the middle school events.
Top prizes were spread between local and visiting teams in the tight racing schedule:
Middle School Men’s Double Sculls Burton Beach Rowing Club (USA)
Middle School Women’s Double Sculls Zhenghou No. 94 Middle School (CHN)
University Men’s Eight North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power (CHN)
University Men’s Pair Utrecht University (NED)
University Women’s Eight Henan University of Economics and Law (CHN)
While being a visiting rower competing at this or similar events in China can be an incredible experience – ‘a trip of a lifetime’ as it is sometimes called – for visiting crews, the impact for local rowers and the sport of rowing for Chinese institutions is unmistakable. The participant’s passion for the relatively new sport is evident in their comments following the regatta.
“I joined rowing because I was curious,” says 19-year-old Li Cheng, a new member of the North China University of Water Resources and Electric Power rowing team. “I don’t know why I am still in rowing, possibly for myself, but also because of others: [waking up] every day to meet the first sunshine across the lake, everybody giving together – I think this is rowing.”
“The team’s cooperation is very important,” says Zhou Panlin, a 22-year-old student at the 17th Economic College of Henan University, who finds significance in the “tacit understanding [that crew members] pull the same consistency in order to be a better team.”
“In addition to rowing, cultural differences between countries and schools have broadened my horizons,” says Cheng Yongyi, a 17-year-old rower from Henan University of Economics and Law. “This competition has benefitted me a lot; it also inspires me to further my life and [practice] rowing training in the future.”
Putting it in perspective
To put Chinese university rowing into perspective, a useful comparison might be made between Chinese rowing and the United States, whose collegiate rowing system is perhaps the biggest and most sophisticated in the world.
While the US Department of Education’s website shows that post-secondary enrolment in the United States, has remained near 20 million students for the around a decade, the National Bureau of Statistics of China’s website indicates that at last count (2015) 26 million students were enrolled at Chinese universities and colleges.
With that number likely already higher and rising, it isn’t hard to imagine a bright future for the sport of rowing as it also continues to grow in popularity on Chinese campuses.