China in My Eyes

50 years of continued friendship

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.  

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