Chinese premier starts UK visit at Shakespeare's home

Wen Jiabao's three-day official visit to Britain began yesterday with a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to pay homage to William Shakespeare.

The Chinese premier, who is reportedly a big fan of the playwright, toured the house where Shakespeare was born and joked about Hamlet, said those present.

The visit – part of a wider three- nation tour – comes at a time Britain is hoping to increase trade ties with China.

China is less sympathetic, however, to its own artistic community. Last week acclaimed sculptor and outspoken artist Ai Wei Wei was finally released from prison after an international outcry.

Ai was just one of a number of prominent dissidents who have been arrested this year as China seeks to ensure the kind of popular revolts spreading across the Middle East are not replicated.

More than 130 prisoners of conscience are behind bars or under house arrest, according to Amnesty International.

The centrepiece of the three-day visit is a trade summit today, which will be attended by Prime Minister David Cameron, Foreign Secretary William Hague and chancellor George Osborne.

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