China in My Eyes

50 years of continued friendship

Three stories from the early days of Alyce’s and Colin’s China experience

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 1966.

How it came about that the Chinese invited Colin and Alyce to go and teach in China could have been indirectly due to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976). In December 1963 and January 1964, he went to Africa, including Algeria, which had recently gained independence from France, with French still used as the diplomatic language. Zhou Enlai had lived in France when he was a student and spoke French very well, but because of protocol reasons he gave his speeches in Chinese. At one point, Zhou corrected his interpreter. It is said that the embarrassment this caused led him to take steps to get foreign languages better spoken in China. He ordered that teachers be got from overseas, including Europe. Colin and Alyce were among the beneficiaries of this policy, even though Australians.


Zhang Hanzhi

Zhang Hanzhi helped Colin and Alyce with the birth of their baby Stephen. At the time she was, unbeknown to them, teaching Mao Zedong English.

Alyce was pregnant at the time the couple went to China. She could speak a bit of Chinese but certainly not enough to deal with the technicalities of dealing with doctors in China. One person who helped her enormously was the distinguished teacher and diplomat Zhang Hanzhi. Very few people knew it then, certainly not Alyce or Colin, but at that very time Zhang Hanzhi was teaching English to the Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976). He was not a good language student, and soon lost interest in favour of leading the Cultural Revolution, a movement we can see with hindsight was totally disastrous for China.

On the morning of February 18th, 1965, Alyce felt the contractions starting very early in the morning and Alyce and Colin went to get Zhang Hanzhi, and she took  to the Friendship Hospital in Beijing, where Stephen was born later that day.






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 Civilizations. This Asian Studies degree resulted from policies by the Menzies government: although it was bitterly hostile to China, it believed Australians should know more about Asia. 

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