Kay Johnson

Professor of Asian Studies
Hampshire College Professor Kay Johnson
Contact Kay

Kay Johnson

Kay Johnson was a professor of Asian studies and politics and director of the Hampshire College China Exchange Program. Her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. were from the University of Wisconsin.

In Memory of Kay Johnson, Beloved Friend, Colleague, Scholar, and Mentor

"Sue Darlington, dean of CSI, expressed the feelings of many on campus, writing to school colleagues yesterday of Kay’s “strong will and deep commitment to Hampshire, CSI, her friends, colleagues, and students,” and her mentoring of countless students here and abroad in China and Asia. Emeritus Professor Carollee Bengelsdorf reflected on her friend’s life, “Kay fought windmills of the impossible her entire life with such determination and such courage that almost always the windmill blades gave up. She fought for her life for these years with the same courage and determination.” 

For much of the past decade, Kay helped administer Hampshire’s Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE), providing global exchange opportunities for herself and fellow faculty and students to lead environmental and agricultural field research in China and Thailand. She established Hampshire’s unique partnership with Anhui Agricultural University, bringing numerous Chinese scholars to Hampshire to help prepare our students to study abroad and creating enduring research networks in China for our students and faculty. She helped secure significant funding from the Henry Luce Foundation's Asia Program. In 2017, she was named by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of "The U.S.-China 50," "the people powering the world's most complex and consequential relationship."

Kay’s teaching spanned Chinese language; Chinese society and politics; women and family studies; development and population policy; international relations, including American and Chinese foreign policy; and the impact of pop culture on U.S. policy toward "others."  Kay earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Much of her research, publishing, and advocacy work was focused on the struggles of children and families in central rural China, including the impact of Chinese population control policies on children's welfare. She dedicated several summers to developing programs and funding for abandoned children with AIDS in China. 

A number of friends shared their gratitude yesterday for Kay, for her dedication supporting and educating families who adopted children born in China. Her research served to  inform adoptive families of the realities of China’s one-child policy. Her friend Betsy Smith wrote, “Her invaluable research on adoption practices in China and her generous sharing of research had a profound effect on thousands of families in the Families with Children from China (FCC) community across the country. She will be sorely missed by people who never met her but have been deeply touched by her work.”  

Another friend, Shanti Fry added, “The FCC-New England families and I are forever indebted to her. Without her decision to adopt in China and to point the way for the rest of us, our families would look very different. She led the way and helped us to better understand the circumstances under which adoptions took place. Not many people can claim to have done as much good in the world as Kay.”

The College will share memorial information as we receive it. We ask you to keep her husband Bill, her children Jesse and LiLi, and her extended family and friends in your thoughts as we remember Kay’s meaningful, lasting contributions to our lives and our community."