Griffith University’sEmeritus Professor Colin MackerrasAO DUniv has been singled out for extraordinary acknowledgement by the visiting President of the People’s Republic of China in an address to the Australian parliament.

His Excellency Mr Xi Jinping said that during his extensive travels throughout Australia he had experienced the goodwill of all Australians towards the Chinese people, but it was Professor Mackerras for whom he reserved his strongest gratitude.

“With his unremitting efforts and devotion, Professor Mackerras has built a bridge of mutual understanding and amity between our peoples,” President Xi said.

“Last September, he was conferred the Friendship Award by the Chinese government. Professor Mackerras, I wish to express deep appreciation to both you and many other Australians for what you have done to enhance the friendship between our two countries.”

50 years of scholarship

High praise indeed, but Professor Mackerras has devoted more than 50 years of scholarship to developing and strengthening this bond; bringing to Australia and the rest of the world an accurate image of modern China.

The relationship began in 1964 when Professor Mackerras first went to China and took up a teaching position at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, now called the Beijing Foreign Studies University. During the next five decades he re-visited China more than 60 times.

In February 1965 Professor Mackerras’s eldest child, Stephen, was born there giving him the distinction of being the first Australian citizen born in the People’s Republic.

By 1974 he had become the Foundation Professor in Modern Asian Studies as the ground-breaking Asian Studies program began at Griffith University. Since then he has helped Chinese studies become a thriving and recognised area of research in Australia and inspired generations of students from both countries to take on the challenge of exchange programs.

Education is the most important aspect of bilateral relations

In 2011, the now Emeritus Professor Mackerras became inaugural director of the Tourism Confucius Instituteat Griffith’s Gold Coast campus. Professor Mackerras believes that of all aspects of bilateral relations, education is the most important.

“Students from each country study in the other and get to understand and appreciate it,” Professor Mackerras said. “Educational relations involve cooperative research, as well as trying to understand the world from an unfamiliar point of view. If we study and learn together, we can understand each other better.”

His work has been recognised in Australia too with the Gold Citation for the Media Peace Prize in 1981, the Foundation Cross of Merit Award in 1993, the Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Australia-China Cultural Relations in 1999, and the Centenary Medal Australia in 2003. In 2006 Griffith awarded him a Doctor of the University and in 2007 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.

A powerful legacy

For a man who has done more for diplomatic relations with China than any Western leader could have hoped to achieve, the job is not yet done. There is no denying however that his legacy is already great, and the proof of that may lie in these words by President Xi.

“As an old Chinese saying goes, the ocean is vast because it admits numerous rivers. It is the steady streams of mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples that have created the vast ocean of goodwill between China and Australia. I am greatly heartened by the immense support for China-Australia relations in both countries.”