Feature: An Australian professor's love for China spanning half a century

Source: Xinhua| 2021-10-05 11:36:54|Editor: huaxia
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By Xinhua Writer Bai Xu

CANBERRA, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- When the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) celebrated its 80th birthday late last month, Colin Mackerras sat quietly in his house more than 8,000 km away in Brisbane, Australia, thumbing through the old photos.

In a black-and-white photo, he stood among a group of young people wearing cotton cloth jackets with turned-down collars, his smiling face as a foreign expert looked distinctive.

Those young people were his BFSU students in 1965.

"I love China," said the 82-year-old renowned Australian sinologist in an online interview with Xinhua. "I love teaching there, and I love my students there."


An Emeritus Professor at Griffith University, Mackerras said his arrival at BFSU was "pure coincidence." BFSU was then known as the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute.

In the early 1960s he was at the Cambridge University in Britain, working on his master degree and learning the history of China's Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). One day he met a friend who was going to teach in China.

"I said 'if they want any other teachers, can you please give them my name?'" he recalled. So his friend did.

Mackerras' teaching work in China started in August, 1964 in Beijing, where, in his memory, there were no subway and no ring roads back then, with "very few cars, many bicycles and very uncomfortable, crowded buses."

Many of his students there were from workers' and peasants' families. "However, the students were hard-working, patriotic and serious-minded, and their level of English was remarkably high," Mackerras said.

Although his first teaching experience at BFSU lasted for only two years, it was "completely transformative" in his life, said the professor.

At that time, to the West including Australia, China was almost like another planet. Western people hardly understood what Chinese thought, and some even saw the country as a threat.

While in China, Mackerras was able to discuss with friends who saw things differently from what he had used to. Gradually he came not only to understand the Chinese point of view, but to agree with it to a great extent.

Mackerras' wife Alyce was pregnant during their time in China. She was accompanied to hospital by their colleague Zhang Hanzhi, who later became a diplomat. Mackerras' son Stephen was the first Australian born in China since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.


In the following years, Mackerras said he went back to China more times than he could count, doing research and teaching in universities. He was instrumental in setting up exchanges between BFSU and Griffith University with which he worked in Australia.

Specializing in Chinese history, art and ethnic minorities and having written or edited more than 40 books in these aspects, he witnessed changes of China, and travelled as far as to the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region multiple times.

Mackerras said he was impressed by the improvement of people's livelihood and security in Xinjiang during his most recent visit in 2018.

While in Kashgar, he saw well-preserved historical part of the city, along with modern coffee shops, one of which he loved especially. "They had a secret formula. I'd love to go there again."

In Yarkant, he visited a school where Uyghur students learned dancing and traditional music instrument.

"Some people said 'oh, stamping out Uyghur culture and committing genocide'. That's just nonsense, just nonsense," Mackerras said emotionally.

"I went there, and they are training the young people in Uyghur arts... At the same time, I think it (Xinjiang) is being modernized in a lot of different ways."


As his understanding about China deepens, he disagrees with much of the propaganda on the Western media, which he said had "the assumption that it's all China's fault."

Regarding Australia's ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei from the country's 5G project citing "security" reasons, Mackerras said "it seems to me Hong Kong is much more of the national security issue for China than Huawei is for Australia."

"They (the rioters in Hong Kong during the social unrest) were disrupting the situation week after week with big demonstrations, going out of their way against the economy. And more as the time went on, the Americans were sending support to them," he said.

He believed that Hong Kong was "made into a human rights issue all the way through by the Western powers."

"To frame it as a human rights issue, rather than as a national security issue is just wrong," said the professor.

Hong Kong was just one example. In the past years Mackerras wrote a lot of articles, mostly on the Pearls and Irritations, a blog website on policy development, to refute the false accusation of the West against China, with the latest one on Sept. 14 talking about common prosperity in China.

Born in Sydney, Mackerras was sad to see the relationship between China and Australia slipping lately, which reminded him of the misunderstanding he knew more than half a century ago.

When China was described as a "security threat" to Australia, he said it was "fundamentally wrong and represented a total misunderstanding of China's intentions or abilities."

"I... find it extremely sad, disgraceful and dangerous to see the 'threat from China' idea returning in Australia now. Have we learned so little from years of engagement?"

While expecting to see the two countries' relationship back to normal, Mackerras, missing BFSU and his friends there, also looked forward to visiting China again. He went to China almost every year in the past decade, until the COVID-19 pandemic affected international travel.

Asked about his plan to revisit China, the professor said: "just when is not in my hands, but I hope it is soon." Enditem

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