I was born in the northern industrial town of Sheffield, England in May 1941. I grew up in my early years in my maternal grandfather’s house in an inner-city location. My grandfather was a labourer in a large steel firm, chipping the impurities out of molten steel. All but one of my uncles were soldiers and living in wartime conditions was a constant element in my early life. I never knew my biological father, who was also a soldier, and he and my mother divorced in 1947. My mother remarried in 1949 and we left the city and moved across the border into Derbyshire, where I went to school in a rural village, and where I had the good fortune to acquire an older step-sister, who was married to an artist, which was to have an important impact on my life. I spent several summers in London in the 1950s, helping out in my brother-in-law’s studio, which was shared with several up and coming British painters, I was also able to share in the arts scene in London and was fortunate enough to attend plays, concerts and exhibition openings, which were not part of my normal existence in the north of England, except for music.
In 1952 I entered Dronfield Grammar School, having “passed” the infamous 11+ examination. I had a good education with caring teachers and when I entered the Sixth Form, grades 11 and 12 in Canada, I began to study economics, history and geography. I also played rugby, cricket, and bridge! In 1959, I was admitted to the University of Southampton. I graduated with a degree in economics and sociology in 1963. My tutor, who had learned Chinese in the army, and later served in Malaya during the so-called Emergency, suggested that I learn Chinese after my graduation. I was introduced to Professor Maurice Freedman, then Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, and to another China anthropologist, Barbara Ward, who was working among fishing people in Hong Kong. They both encouraged me to think of post-graduate study at Cornell University in the United States, where I would have an opportunity to study with the distinguished anthropologist of China, G.W. Skinner. I was admitted to Cornell as a China Program fellow. One condition in taking up my fellowship was that I had to have a year’s study of Chinese. This proved impossible in the Britain of the time. I therefore postponed my entry to Cornell for a year and spent an academic year at the University of Kansas, where I not only studied first year Chinese, but also took courses on Asian topics, including Chinese history. I studied second year Chinese at Columbia University during the summer of 1964 and arrived at Cornell with two years of Chinese. Cornell was a superb location to study sociology (dominated then by a Parsonsian interpretation), as well as Chinese studies. It was also at Cornell that I was to meet my future wife, Elizabeth, who was a graduate student in anthropology. I wrote a long MA thesis on the creation and transformation of rural people’s communes in China and was admitted to the doctoral programme where I studied social change and development, Chinese studies, and economic development. Doctoral field work presented a problem as the Cultural Revolution was raging in China and it was difficult to contemplate doing sociological research there in the political context of the time. The alternative my wife and I chose was Hong Kong, which for me presented easy access as a British passport holder. Cornell was noted for its teaching of Asian languages, including Cantonese, the dominant language of Hong Kong, which we began to learn. In early 1968 we left for Asia, now with a young son, with a stopover in England, where we were able to meet with scholars who had worked on Hong Kong topics. We also visited Singapore, which had been an alternative site for field work, as political problems in Hong Kong in the summer of 1967 raised questions about the appropriateness of Hong Kong as a field site.
Within two weeks of arriving in Hong Kong we had moved to the industrializing town of Tsuen Wan, which was to be the locus of our doctoral research for two years. Tsuen Wan was in the New Territories, that part of the British colony which had been leased for 100 years in 1898. The Chinese residents of the 30 or so rural villages that had formed the district where acknowledged as “original inhabitants” and granted certain land rights. These were to prove crucial in the years immediately after the Japanese occupation and leading up to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, which was to sever Hong Kong’s long-standing entrepot trade with China. Tsuen Wan was at the centre of an industrial transformation, led by Chinese entrepreneurs from the Shanghai region. Large numbers of immigrants came to Hong Kong and Tsuen Wan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and formed the labour force for a textile industry that was to change the face of Hong Kong. We moved into one of the original villages which became the focus of my wife’s doctoral research, while I focused on the transformation of the town, and the relationship between the original inhabitants and the migrants. I have followed the process of the transformation of this culturally distinct and poor rural region for over 50 years into three ‘new towns’ now in a post-industrial context. The original inhabitants, although only a tiny fragment of the overall population of almost one million, have remained as have their villages, although many have been re-sited. (Elizabeth Lominska Johnson and Graham E. Johnson ‘A Chinese Melting Pot: Original Inhabitants and Immigrants in Hong Kong’s First ‘New Town’ (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2019).
I joined the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at UBC in 1970 and taught until my mandatory retirement in 2006. Change and migration in a variety of Chinese contexts were key elements in my early work in Hong Kong. They remained a constant during my career, although the contexts shifted. I was immediately attracted by the large and vibrant Chinese community in Vancouver, which was on the cusp of dramatic change due to changes in Canada’s immigration policy. In the 1970s I worked with colleagues on a book project which resulted in the first English-language book-length study of Chinese communities in Canada. I continued to examine settlement issues as Chinese immigrants became the largest component of immigrants to Canada. China itself slowly opened to foreign scholars, as anthropology and sociology were reborn and Canadians were favoured because of Canadian efforts to establish diplomatic relations in 1970, which became a critical path for a general normalization of relationships with the People’s Republic of China. I was able to conduct limited field work in the Pearl River delta region of Guangdong province in south China as early as 1973. This allowed me to establish long-standing relationships with five units in different parts of the delta region which, after 1979, with one exception, went through a process of rural industrialization. It paralleled the process that I had first observed in Hong Kong in the 1960s. In 1984 I was able to survey 400 rural households in the five units. I subsequently conducted three more surveys and from the 1990s these included migrants from throughout China who had come to work in the region. The last survey was completed in 2008.
My early work in China was funded by the International Development Research Centre. My research was funded primarily by SSHRCC, which was to develop good relationships with the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS). I was involved in negotiations between SSHRCC and CASS on scholarly exchanges in the 1980s. I was also involved with CIDA at various points. In 1997-2002 I was co-director of a large project on transportation issues in Gansu, Guangdong, and Shanghai. In 1989 I assumed the chair of the China Council of the Canadian Asian Studies Association and served as President of the association from 1991-93.
Areas of Specialization: Hong Kong, Pearl River delta, Guangdong province, south China. Overseas Chinese migration. Social and cultural change.
1976. (With Elizabeth Johnson) Walking on Two Legs: Rural Development in South China (International Development Research Centre, Ottawa), 1-72).
1982. (With H. Con, R. Con, E.B. Wickberg and W.E. Willmott) From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart) pp. viii, 379. [Translated into French as De la Chine au Canada: Histoire des Communautes Chinoises au Canada (Ottawa: Secretariat d'Etat, 1985).] [Translated into Chinese by Xu Buzheng as Cong Zhongguo Dao Jianada (Shanghai: Social Sciences Press, 1988)]
1999. (with G. Peterson) An Historical Dictionary of Guangzhou [Canton] and Guangdong Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press).
2019. (with Elizabeth Lominska Johnson) A Chinese Melting Pot: Original People and Immigrants in Hong Kong’s First ‘New Town. Hong Kong: Hong University Press.).
2001. (with G. Drover and Julia Tai Lai Po-wah) Regionalism and Sub-regionalism in East Asia: the Dynamics of China. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
1969. "Research in Industrializing Society" in M. Topley (ed.) Anthropology and Sociology in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Centre for Asian Studies, Hong Kong University) pp. 28-46.
1978. "Chinese Family and Community in Canada: Tradition and Change" in J.L. Elliot (ed.) Two Nations, Many Cultures (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall of Canada) pp. 358-371.
1982. "Asian Rural Development Strategies: Some Comments on the Chinese Experience" in P.G. Cornwall and G. McBeath (eds.) Developing Rural Alaska: A Role for China and Japan (Fairbanks, University of Alaska Press) pp. 17-31.
1982. "Peasants and Rural Development in the 1970's: South China Case" in R.P. Misra (Ed) Rural Development: National Policies and Experiences (Nagoya: Maruzen) pp. 113-128.
1983. "Chinese Canadians in the 1970's: New Wine in New Bottles" in Jean Elliot (Ed) Two Nations, Many Cultures 2nd Edition (Scarborough, Ontario, Prentice Hall of Canada) pp. 393-411.
1992. "The Political Economy of Chinese Urbanization: Guangdong the Pearl River Delta" in G. Guldin (Ed) Urbanizing China (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press) pp 185-220.
1993. "The Political Economy of Chinese Urbanization: Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta" in G. Guldin and A. Southall (Eds) Urban Anthropology in China (Leiden: E.J. Brill) pp. 167-204. [Reprinted from Urbanizing China Greenwood Press. 1992]
1993. "Family Strategies and Economic Transformation in Rural China: Some Evidence from the Pearl River Delta" in D. Davis and S. Harrell (Eds) Changing Family Strategies in Post-Mao China (Berkeley: University of California Press) pp. 103-136.
1994. (with D. Lary) "Hong Kong Migration to Canada: the Background" in R. Skeldon (Ed) Reluctant Exiles? Migration from Hong Kong and the New Overseas Chinese (Armonk, N.Y. and Hong Kong: M.E. Sharpe and Hong Kong University Press) pp. 87-97.
1994. "Hong Kong Immigration and the Chinese Community of Vancouver" in R. Skeldon (Ed) Reluctant Exiles? Migration from Hong Kong and the New Overseas Chinese (Armonk, N.Y. and Hong Kong: M.E. Sharpe and Hong Kong University Press) pp. 120-138.
1994. "Open for Business, Open to the World: Consequences of Global Incorporation in Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta". In T.P. Lyons and Victor Nee (Eds) The Economic Transformation of South China: Reform and Development in the Post-Mao Era, Cornell East Asia Series, no. 70 (Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Program) pp. 55-88.
1994. "Hong Kong, From Colony to Territory: Economic and Social Implications of Globalization" in Benjamin K.P. Leung and Teresa Y.C. Wong Twenty Five Years of Social and Economic Development in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press) pp. 660-689.
1995. “Changing Horizons for Regional Development: Continuity and Transformation in Hong Kong and its Hinterland, 1950s-1990s" in R. Kwok and A. So The Hong Kong-Guangdong Link: Partnership in Flux (Armonk. N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe) pp. 64-86.
1997. "Links To and Through South China: Local, Regional and Global Connections" in G. Postiglione and J. Tang (Eds) Hong Kong's Reunion with China: The Global Dimensions (Armonk, N.Y. and Hong Kong: M.E. Sharpe and Hong Kong University Press, 1997) pp. 123-146.
1998. (with Y.F. Woon) "Social and Development patterns in South China: The Case of the Pearl River Delta Region in the 1990s" in H. Coward (ed) Traditional and Modern Approaches to the Environment in the Asia Pacific: Tensions and Values (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press) pp. 215-235.
1998. "Changing Structures, Changing Contexts: Research Implications of a Transformed Environment" in C.H. Cheung (ed) On the South China Track: Perspectives on Anthropological Research and Teaching (Shatin: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press).
1999. "Managing Revolutionary Transformation: Action and Reaction in the Pearl River Delta Region" in Joseph Y.S. Cheng The Guangdong Developmental Model and its Challenges (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press) pp. 295-334.
2000. “Degrees of Dependency, Degrees of Interdependency: Hong Kong's Changing Links with the Mainland and the World" in P.T.Lee and Wong Siu-lun (Eds) Hong Kong: Integrating with China Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press pp. 295-334.
2001. (with G.Drover and Julia Tai Lai Po-wah) "Introduction" in Regionalism and Sub-regionalism in East Asia: the Dynamics of China (New York: Nova Science Publishers) pp. 9-17.
2001. (with G.Drover and Julia Tai Lai Po-wah) "Hong Kong: Window on a Region, Window on a World" in Regionalism and Sub-regionalism in East Asia: the Dynamics of China (New York: Nova Science Publishers) pp. 209-238.
2002. "Les Noveaux Territoires: Les Coulisses de Hong Kong" in Louis Augustin-Jean et Florence Padovani Hong Kong: Economie, Societé et Culture Paris: L’Harmattan.
2003. "Guangdong: From Past, Present and Future" in Joseph Y.S. Cheng Guangdong: Preparing for the WTO Challenge (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press) pp. 327-352.
2004. "Establishing 'Home' Away from Home: Migrants in the Industrial Transformation of Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong" in Stephen Feuchtwang (Ed) Making Place: State Projects, Globalisation and Local Responses in China (London: University College London Press) pp. 79-92.
2007. “Comings and Goings: Pearl River Delta Identities in an Era of Change and Transformation” in Tan Chee-beng (Ed) Chinese Transnational Networks (London and New York: Routledge) pp. 23-48.
2010. (with Zhang Feng) “Partners, Neighbours, Outsiders: Understanding Labour Migrants in the Pearl River Delta Region” in Joseph Y.S. Cheng (Ed) Guangdong: Challenges in Development and Crisis Management (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press) pp.363-395.
1970. "Hong Kong in Transition" Journal of Oriental Studies, Fall, January, 227-230. [Review Article]
1971. "From Spirit Medium Cult to Rural Committee: Voluntary Associations in the Development of a Chinese Town", Contributions to Asian Studies, Vol. I, 123-143.
1971. "Chinese Urbanization and Economic Development" Pacific Affairs, Winter, 580-594. [Review Article]
1972. "Hong Kong; Colonial Anachronism?" China Quarterly, 51, 554-557. [Review Article]
1973. "Immigration and Community Expansion in Hong Kong: The Case of Tsuen Wan", Journal of Oriental Studies, January, 107-114.
1973. "Rural Chinese Social Organization: Tradition and Change", Pacific Affairs, Winter, 557-564.
1975. "Voluntary Associations and Social Change; Some Theoretical Issues", International Journal of Comparative Sociology, February, 51-63.
1977. "Leaders and Leadership in a New Territories Town", China Quarterly, March, 109-125.
1979. "Agriculture the Base": Rural Development 1949-79" in Thirty Years On special edition of International Journal, Autumn, 606-623.
1982. "The Production Responsibility System in Chinese Agriculture: Some Examples from Guangdong" Pacific Affairs 55, 3 (Fall), 430-451.
1986. "Responsibility and Reform: Consequences of Recent Policy Changes in Rural South China" Contemporary Marxism Vol. 12-13, Spring 144-162.
1986. "1997 and After: Will Hong Kong Survive? A Personal View" Pacific Affairs Vol. 59, 2 (Summer), pp. 237-254.
1989. "Rural Transformation in Rural South China? Views from the Locality" Revue Europeene des Sciences Sociales. Tome XXVII,(No. 84) pp. 191-226.
1992. "Ethnic and Racial Communities in Canada and Problems of Adaptation: Chinese-Canadians in the Contemporary Period." Ethnic Groups. 9, 3 pp. 151-174
1993. "Twentieth Century Chinese Peasant: Subjects for Scrutiny and Emotion" Reviews in Anthropology 22 (1993) pp. 91-101 [Review Article]
1995. "The True North Strong: Contemporary Chinese Studies in Canada" The China Quarterly 143 (September) pp. 851-866
1997. (With Y.F. Woon) "The Impact of Reform in Two Overseas Chinese Localities" Modern Asian Studies 31, 1 pp. 31-59 (70 per cent)
1997. (With Y.F.Woon) "Patterns of Development in Post-reform China: the Pearl River Delta in the 1990s" Development and Change 28, 4 (October) pp. 731-751
2002. “50 Years On, 20 Years On: Revolution and Reform in Guangdong” Asian Geographer 21 (1-2) pp. 125-144
(b) Conference Proceedings
1989. "From Rejection to Acceptance: Comments on the Adaptation of Chinese to Canadian Society" in O.P.Dwivedi, R. D'Costa, C.L.Stanford, and E.Tepper (Eds) Canada 2000: Race Relations and Public Policy: Proceedings of a Conference Held at Carleton University, October 30-November 1, 1987 (Guelph: Department of Political Science, University of Guelph) pp. 323-343
1990. "New Patterns, Old Reactions: Chinese Migration to Canada in the 1990s" in Bernard H.Y. Luk (Ed) Contact Between Cultures: Selected Paper from the 33rd International Congress of Asian and North African Studies Vol 4 Eastern Asia: History Social Sciences (Lewiston: E. Mellen Press) pp. 426-431
1976. Contemporary Social Problems: China (University of British Columbia, Centre for Continuing Education) xxi, 174 pp.
1980. Contemporary Social Problems: China Second Edition (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, Department of Continuing Education) xxvi, 224 pp.
1987. Introduction to Chinese Society: Traditional (Richmond: Open University) 131 pp.
1989. Introduction to Chinese Society: Contemporary (Richmond: Open University) 207 pp.
1992. An Introduction to Chinese Society: Traditional and Contemporary (Hong Kong: Open Learning Institute) 314 pp.
1994. An Introduction to Chinese Society:Traditional and Contemporary Second Edition (Hong Kong: Open Learning Institute) 335 pp.
1998. An Introduction to Chinese Society:Traditional and Contemporary Third Revised Edition (Hong Kong: Open University Press) 422 pp.
1973. Rural Economic Development and Social Change in South China. A report submitted to the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa. 66 pp.
1985. (With R. Bedeski and J. Chen) Edited by Gilles Jasmin Social Science in the Peoples Republic of China/Les Sciences Sociales en Republique Populaire de Chine (Ottawa: SSHRCC) 78 pp
1990. The View From Within: General Developments and the Prospects for Social Science in China: An Assessment Report 55 pp. (Report Submitted to The Canadian International Development Agency, February).