Rowing to Victory

Further rowing news: two boatloads of rival Chinese entrepreneurs went head to head on the river on Thursday morning (no doubt timed to allow them to work off their farewell dinners of Wednesday evening). The two boats were named Jesus and Pembroke, and Jesus won. I suppose entrepreneurs are by selection-pressure both competitive and quick-learners, and eye-witnesses attest to the remarkable progress they all made over the course of three weeks. Here they are, coming down Long Reach, looking for all the world like people who can row.

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The course our Chinese entrepreneurs have been following is a testament to the healthy-body, health-mind school of thought. Were it not for the fact that bible-study is down played, the curriculum would not have looked unfamiliar to Thomas Arnold, mid-nineteenth century headmaster of Rugby school, who in outlining the structure of a sound education emphasised manly gentlemanliness (or gentlemanly manliness) and Christian sensibility above intellectual accomplishment. Sport and sportsmen-like behaviour was both an index of and tutor to moral sense. Empire, he concluded, was fashioned through mutual healthy manly endeavour, played out in the first instance on the water or on the rugby field.

That the industrial revolution – as our entrepreneurs have been learning – was built on the unmoral sweat of the ungentlemanly classes, and on the artisanal tinkering of a succession of quirky, grubby introverts, just as the ‘knowledge economy’ is built on the detailed labour of a myriad of individuals working in vast industrial complexes in distant lands, was neither here nor there to Thomas Arnold. Someone, after all, has to take the credit.

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