Professor Johnson received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1976 she earned her Ph.D. there; her thesis was about women’s rights and family reform in China. Along the way she learned to speak Chinese fluently.
“She had a critical consciousness and always did deep research,” Edward Friedman, who was Professor Johnson’s thesis adviser at Wisconsin, said by phone. “There were other, more popular books about the subjects she wrote about, but if you want seriously sourced books, you’d go to her.”
She taught political science at the University of California, San Diego, for five years. In 1979 she joined Hampshire, where she was a professor of Asian studies and political science. For the last few years she ran Hampshire’s Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment, which gave students and faculty members the chance to do field research in China and Thailand.
Professor Johnson’s first book, “Women, the Family and Peasant Revolution in China” (1983), was adapted from her thesis. Her second, “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China” (2004), was her first exploration of the abandonment and adoption of children in China during the government’s crackdown on overpopulation.
“China’s Hidden Children” was published in 2016, soon after China ended its one-child policy — in part to increase its labor supply — and officially announced that married couples would be allowed to have two children.
In addition to her husband and her daughter, who is a Ph.D. candidate in American studies at Yale, Professor Johnson is survived by a son, Jesse Johnson; a stepdaughter, Elena Ritter; and a brother, David Johnson.
Professor Johnson’s adoption of LiLi (pronounced LEE-lee) was among the first of a Chinese infant in the United States. Shanti Fry had heard about the adoption from a friend, which led her to adopt an infant from the same orphanage as LiLi, and to become the founding president of the New England chapter of a support group, Families With Children From China.
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