China in My Eyes

50 years of continued friendship

March 6, 2015
by Chinainmyeyes
Comments Off on Colin and Alyce Mackerras

Colin and Alyce Mackerras

My Mum and Dad, who lived in Beijing from 1964 to 1966, were the first Australians to work, live and have a baby in  the People’s Republic of China. In 1964, Australia was ruled by the dogma of White Australia and the fear of communism. Australia refused to recognize the People’s Republic of China and Australian passports had to be specially validated for travel to the Chinese mainland.

My parents went on an incredibly brave journey to China in the 1960s and became the first Australians to form a life long friendship during a time when their country and family said ‘no’.  They both went ahead anyway AND had a baby – very brave. It is incredible the contribution they have both have silently made to Australia – China relations and I hope this webpage might illustrate this life long friendship.

Colin Mackerras 1962

Colin Mackerras 1962

Alyce Mackerras 1960s

Alyce Mackerras 1960s










Monday 17 November 2014,  Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Australia and gave an address to the Australian Parliament to open the free trade agreement between Australia and China. Towards the beginning of his address, President Xi thanked Colin for his friendship and dedication.  Colin Mackerras, who began as an English teacher in 1964 was finally given an ovation for his efforts from the Australian Parliament and Chinese Government. This was a very proud moment in Colin’s career.

Premier Li Keqiang shales Colin Mackerras's hand at the Friendship Award Ceremony. October 1 2014.

Premier Li Keqiang shakes Colin Mackerras’s hand at the Friendship Award Ceremony. October 1 2014. The “Friendship Award” was established to honour the outstanding contributions foreign experts have contributed in China’s modernisation drive. The award was established to show the highest honours. In 2014, a total of 25 countries and only 100 foreign received this award.

Richard Blundell’s portrait of Professor Colin Mackerras was unveiled on Friday 2nd October 2015, in its new home at the Colin Mackerras Room at the Griffith Asia Institute (Nathan Campus, Griffith University).

Richard Blundell’s portrait of Professor Colin Mackerras was unveiled on Friday 2nd October 2015, in its new home at the Colin Mackerras Room at the Griffith Asia Institute (Nathan Campus, Griffith University).


Colin Mackerras was pursuing his master’s degree at Cambridge University when he learned that foreign-language teachers were needed in China in the 1960s. He decided to give it a try despite the different geopolitical conditions back then.

His visits over half a century have resulted in hundreds of academic papers and dozens of books with views from within China and the West.

An early Australian to follow Asian studies with a focus on China, Mackerras is today known as an established Sinologist. He had taken up Chinese studies at the behest of his mother.

“I was interested in Chinese culture, especially theater,” Mackerras, 77, says of his desire to come to China along with his wife, Alyce, in 1964.

Back then, China had no diplomatic relations with Australia.

Despite the challenges of living in a foreign country, they were able to make friends in China, and many remain so to date.

The couple taught until 1966 and left before the start of the “cultural revolution” (1966-76).

But Mackerras continued his Chinese studies in Australia. He returned to China in 1977 and has since visited time after time, mainly to teach and for research.

More recently, he has been dividing his time between the two countries.

He is now teaching at Beijing Foreign Studies University as professor emeritus.

Fluent in Chinese, Mackerras usually rides an old bike to class and spends a lot of time with his students.

In all these years, he has also followed his passion for Chinese opera, which he describes as “music of the people” as it was played outdoors.

Mackerras, who wrote his PhD thesis on Peking Opera, still has gramophones of the ancient art form.

“It took me a while to get used to the style of Chinese opera singing, which is so different from Western opera,” he says. “But both are beautiful.”

As an admirer of Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang, Mackerras says he is happy to see the art form being revived with government support today.

Mackerras, who has written books on Chinese opera, has explored the relationship between Chinese opera and society.

Other than research, his knowledge comes from extensive travels within the country, including in remote ethnic regions.

He has carried out interviews with ordinary people and local officials.

“I have a perspective over a relatively long period of time in China. It’s very helpful for my research,” he says.

March 5, 2015
by Chinainmyeyes
Comments Off on How Colin and Alyce came to be interested in Asia

How Colin and Alyce came to be interested in Asia

Alyce and Stephen Mackerras. Beijing 1965

Alyce and Stephen Mackerras. Beijing 1965

Colin Mackerras with baby Stephen, Beijing 1965.

Colin Mackerras with baby Stephen, Beijing 1965.

How it came about that the Chinese invited Colin to go was because of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. In 1963, he went to Africa, in particular to Algeria. Algeria had just got independence from France in 1962 and they were still speaking French for diplomatic purposes. Zhou Enlai lived in France when he was a student and he spoke French perfectly, but because of protocol reasons he gave his speeches in Chinese and they were translated into French. At one point, Zhou corrected his interpreter. This was noticed, and Zhou Enlai thought it was very humiliating that it had been noticed that he had corrected his interpreter. So he issued an edict to get people from Europe to teach young Chinese people languages. Colin and Alyce were one of the beneficiaries of this policy, even though Australian.

Zhang Hanzhi

Zhang Hanzhi helped Colin and Alyce with the birth of their baby Stephen. Later, Zhang Hanzhi went on to teach Mao Zedong english and translated for many diplomatic events such as when President Nixon and Prime Minister Whitlam went to China.

Alyce could speak a bit of Chinese she couldn’t do anything on a technical level about her pregnancy, so Zhang Hanzhi was an enormous help to her throughout her pregnancy. On the morning of February 18th, 1965, Alyce felt the contractions starting very early in the morning and we went to get Zhang Hanzhi, woke her up in effect, and she took us to the hospital. They stayed there the whole day. Zhang Hanzhi later went on to become Mao Zedong’s English teacher and translated for many political events.






Students with Alyce Mackerras and Stephen Beijing, 1965

Students of Alyce Mackerras holding Stephen, Beijing 1966

Colin and Alyce studied in Canberra, at the then Canberra University College, which was then attached to the university of Melbourne. They both studied Chinese, Japanese and Oriental Civilization. This degree was especially set up by the then Foreign Affairs Minister Paul Hasluck who thought Australians should learn about Asia.