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The official duties of the heir to the throne are not onerous. They do, however, involve attending state banquets in honour of visiting dignitaries. In October 1999, the Prince of Wales decided otherwise. While every leading member of the royal family from Her Majesty the Queen to the lowly Sir Angus Ogilvy sat down for dinner at the Chinese embassy, Prince Charles hosted a soir?e at St James’s Palace for some close friends.

In the symbolic waltz of courtly etiquette, this represented an extraordinary act of defiance. The date for President Jiang Zemin’s tour had been known…

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