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Colin is an Australian sinologist  and specialist in Chinese culture. He has published on Chinese drama, national minorities of China, Australian-Chinese relations and images of China in the West.

Colin was Chair Professor and Research Scholar at the Australian National University in 1966-69. He was Professor at the School of Modern Asian Studies at Griffith University  in 1974-2004. At Griffith he served as Chair, School of Modern Asian Studies (1979-1985) and as Head School of Modern Asian Studies (1988-89,1996-2000). Since 2004 he has been Professor Emeritus at the Department of International Business and Asian Studies (Griffith University).  He is a member of the Asian Studies Association of Australia (President,1992-95) and Chinese Studies Association (President,1991-93).

Colin is twin brother of Malcolm Mackerras, a  psephologist, and brother of the late conductor Sir Charles Mackerras (1 925- 2010).