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300-year-old legend sets an example

Updated: 2012-04-09 08:02
By Chen Yanqi ( China Daily)

In an age when traveling overseas was an exception for Chinese people, Shen Fuzong was a larger-than-life hero. Born in 1657 in Nanjing, he had a modest beginning and died on his voyage back home from what is now Mozambique in 1692. Little is recorded about him in his native country, but this man is remembered for his decade-long adventure in Europe in the 1680s.

Shen landed in Portugal in 1682, when his legend began to unfold. He was summoned to Rome by Pope Innocent XI and the gifts he presented became the first collection of Chinese books in the Vatican Library. He demonstrated Chinese calligraphy and the use of chopsticks for Le Roi Soleil Louise XIV of France and presented the latter with Latin translations of Confucius classics. He was the first recorded Chinese person to ever reach Britain and he met its King, James II, who commissioned a portrait of Shen and placed it in his bed chamber. That portrait survives to this day in the collection of the royal family.

Shen was not the first Chinese person to make it to Europe, nor was he on a quest for sensation. However, his presence was celebrated at the time and his contribution to the knowledge of China in Europe was certainly not matched by anyone in his lifetime, nor indeed was it for a long time afterwards.

300-year-old legend sets an example