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George Macartney refuses to bow before Emperor Qianlong in 1792 © The Art Archive/ Eileen Tweedy

Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit missionary who travelled to China in 1583. He learnt the language and in 1601 was appointed an advisor to the emperor on account of his knowledge of astronomy. He died in Beijing in 1610. He writes: “Of all the great nations, the Chinese have had the least commerce, indeed, one might say that they have had practically no contact whatever, with other nations, and consequently they are grossly ignorant…

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