Lewis Mayo was born and educated in New Zealand. He studied Southeast Asian and Chinese history and the history of late antique and medieval Europe at the University of Auckland, before going on to Peking University to study medieval Chinese history. He continued his studies of Chinese medieval history at the University of Hawaii focusing on the legal and social history of the Song dynasty, while also studying Qing and Han dynasty history, Buddhism, Southeast Asian and Islamic History. His PhD, done at the ANU, was a political history of birds in the oasis of Dunhuang in the Chinese-Inner Asian borderlands between the 9th and 11th centuries. In recent years, his work on medieval Chinese and Inner Eurasian history has been supplemented by work on Pacific and Asian history, with a particular focus on creole and settler cultures and the problem of feudalism.