About Us

Research Professor & Emeritus Professor

Office NAH 410
Office Tel. 3943 7718
Email loading...
Educational qualification English, Japanese; Cantonese (basic), Spanish (basic)


Prof. Gordon Mathews has written or edited books about what makes life worth living in Japan and the United States, about the global cultural supermarket and the meanings of culture today, about the Japanese generation gap, about what it means to “belong to a nation” in Hong Kong and elsewhere, about how different societies conceive of happiness, about Chungking Mansions as a global building, and about low-end globalization around the world. He is currently writing books about African traders in Guangzhou (an RGC grant enabled him to spend a year in Guangzhou in 2013-2014), about asylum seekers in Hong Kong and the global treatment of asylum seekers, and about the meanings of life after death in the United States, Japan, and China, and how these shape people’s lives before death. Over the past year, he has written papers on anthropology in East Asia, on happiness and neoliberalism in Japan, and on how to smuggle goods past customs in China. Mathews is really happy to be an anthropologist because the discipline enables him to investigate so many different topics. Anthropology is incredibly fun because so many different things in this world can be explored!

Research interests

Meanings of life, culture and identity, low-end globalization, asylum seekers, life after death

Geographical areas of research

Japan, the United States, Hong Kong, Chungking Mansions

Courses taught

ANTH 1010/ UGEC 1681 Humans and Culture
ANTH 2350/ UGED 2980/ ANTH 5315 Meanings of Life
ANTH 2520/ UGEC2990 Globalization and Culture
ANTH 3630 Language, Symbols and Society

Current research

(Belief in) Life After Death as a Window into Contemporary Societies
Asylum Seekers in Hong Kong and the world
African Traders in Guangzhou and low-end globalization
Anthropological Approaches to Happiness


Vice Chancellor’s Exemplary Teaching Award for General Education, CUHK, 2014

7th Hong Kong Book Prize, for Chinese translation of Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, 2014 (translated by Yang Yang)

Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship 2013/2014

Research Excellence Award 2011-2012, Arts and Languages Panel, CUHK

Vice-Chancellor’s Exemplary Teaching Award, Faculty of Social Science, CUHK, 2000.

Other positions held

Co-editor, Asian Anthropology

Co-editor Deja Lu

President of the Society for East Asian Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association

Vice Chairperson, Hong Kong Anthropological Society

Member, Organizing Committee of the World Council of Anthropological Associations

Selected publications - books

2017 The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace, written by Gordon Mathews with Linessa Dan Lin and Yang Yang. To be published in Nov. 2017 by University of Chicago Press (worldwide), Hong Kong University Press (Asian distribution) and Chinese University Press (Chinese language edition).

2012 Globalization From Below: The World’s Other Economy, edited by Gordon Mathews, Gustavo Lins Ribeiro and Carlos Alba Vega. London: Routledge.

2011 Ghetto at the Center of the World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. The simplified Chinese translation by Yang Yang was awarded the 2015 Phoenix Top 10 Book of the Year Award in China.

2008 Hong Kong, China: Learning to Belong to a Nation. Written by Gordon Mathews, Eric Kit-wai Ma and Tai-lok Lui. London: Routledge.

2008 Pursuits of Happiness: Well-Being in Anthropological Perspective, edited by Gordon Mathews and Carolina Izquierdo. New York: Berghahn.

2004 Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? edited by Gordon Mathews and Bruce White. London: Routledge.

2001 Consuming Hong Kong, edited by Gordon Mathews and Tai-lok Lui. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

2000 Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket. London: Routledge.

1996 What Makes Life Worth Living? How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Various of these books have been translated into Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Dutch, Spanish. Complex Chinese, and Simplified Chinese.

Book chapters and journal articles

2017 “Life After Death/Life Before Death and Their Linkages in The United States, Japan, and China,” by Gordon Mathews and Kwong Miu Ying. In Sébastien Penmellen Boret, Susan Orpett Long and Sergei Kan, eds., Authority, Innovation and Mortuary Rites: The Anthropology of Death in the Early Twenty-first Century. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

2017 “Happiness in Neoliberal Japan,” in Barbara Holthus and Wolfram Manzenreiter eds. Happiness and the Good Life in Japan. London: Routledge, pp. 227-242.

2017 “Happiness Pursued, Abandoned, Dreamed of, and Stumbled Upon: An Analysis of Twenty Japanese Lives Over Twenty Years,” in Barbara Holthus and Wolfram Manzenreiter, eds. Life Course, Happiness and Well-being in Japan. Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series. London: Routledge, pp. 189-201.

2016 “Felicidad, calidad de vida y bienestar: qué son? Como pueden ser estudiados? Deben ser estudiados?” [Quality of life, Happiness, and Well-Being: What are they? How can they be measured? Should they be measured?] In Politicas y Bienestar Subjectivo: La felicidad en la agenda publica [Politics and Subjective Well-Being: Happiness in the Public Agenda. David Gomez-Alverez and Victor Ortiz Ortega, eds. Gaudalajara: Ariel/Banco de Desarrollo en America Latina. Pp. 105-118.

2016 “Between World Anthropology and World Anthropologies: An American Anthropologist in East Asia as Gatekeeper/Interpreter.” American Anthropologist 118(4): 845–847.

2016 “The Globalization of Anthropology and Japan’s Place Within It.” Keynote Lecture, 2d JASCA International Symposium, Japanese Review of Cultural Anthropology. Vol. 16, 2015, Pp. 75-92.

2016 “Médiateurs culturels africains en China de Sud” [African Cultural Brokers in South China]. In Karsten Giese and Laurence Marfaing, eds., Entrepreneurs africains et chinois: les impacts sociaux d’une reconntre particulière [African and Chinese entrepreneurs: social impacts of their encounter] Paris: Karthala, pp. 95-126.

2015 “The Promise and Problems of African Traders in Guangzhou: When Will We See a Chinese Barack Obama?” in Zhou Yongming ed. China’s Anthropology (zhong guo ren lei xue) vol.1, pp. 138-157. Beijing: The Commercial Press (shang wu yin shu guan).

2015 “Africans in Guangzhou,” in topical issue of Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, “Foreign Lives in a Globalising City: Africans in Guangzhou,” 44(4): 7-15.

2015 “African Logistics Agents and Middlemen as Cultural Brokers in Guangzhou,” in topical issue of Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, “Foreign Lives in a Globalising City: Africans in Guangzhou,” 44(4): 117-144.

2015 “Taking Copies from China Past Customs: Routines, Risks, and the Possibility of Catastrophe.” Journal of Borderland Studies 30(3): 423-435.

2015 “East Asian Anthropology in the World.” American Anthropologist 117(2): 364-383.

2014 “How to Evade States and Slip Past Borders: Lessons from Traders, Overstayers and Asylum Seekers in Hong Kong and China.” By Gordon Mathews, Lin Dan and Yang Yang. City & Society 26(2): 217-238.

2014 “Being a Man in a Straitened Japan: The View from Twenty Years Later.” In Satsuki Kawano, Glenda S. Roberts, and Susan Orpett Long, eds., Capturing Contemporary Japan: Differentiation and Uncertainty. Hawai’i: University Of Hawai’i Press. Pp. 60-80.

2014 “Asylum Seekers in Hong Kong: The Paradoxes of Lives Lived on Hold.” In Jijiao Zhang and Howard Duncan, eds., Migration in China and Asia: Experience and Policy. New York: Springer. Pp. 73-85.

2014 “The Urban Geography of Chungking Mansions” in Kowloon Cultural District: An Investigation into Spatial Capabilities in Hong Kong, edited by Esther Lorenz and Li Shiqiao. Hong Kong: MCCM Creations. Pp. 286-293.

2012 “Nihon ni okeru ikigai to raifukōsu no henka” [Ikigai and Changing Life Courses in Japan]. In Hiromi Tanaka, Maren Godzik, and Kristina Iwata Weickgenaant, eds. Raifukōsu sentaku no yukue [Beyond a Standardized Lifecourse]. Tokyo: Shinyosha. Pp. 360-380.

2012 “Contesting Anglo-American Hegemony in Publication.” Journal of Workplace Rights 16(3-4): 405-421.

2012 “Happiness, Culture and Context.” International Journal of Wellbeing 2(4): 299-312. (Online Article)

2012 “African Traders in Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong.” In David W. Haines, Keiko Yamanaka, and Shinji Yamashita, eds., Wind Over Water: Migration in an East Asian Context, New York: Berghahn. Pp. 208-218.

2012 “Death and ‘the Pursuit of a Life Worth Living’ in Japan.” In Hikaru Suzuki, ed., Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan, London: Routledge, 2012. Pp. 33-48.

2012 Gordon Mathews and Yang Yang. “How Africans Pursue Low-end Globalization in Hong Kong and Mainland China.” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 41 (2): 95-120. (Online Article)

2012 “Another Way to Resist Wall Street: Copies, Smuggling, and “Globalization from Below.”” In Jane Byrne, ed., The Occupy Handbook, New York: Back Bay Books. Pp. 480-493.

2012 “Identities, Traditional,” “Identities in Global Societies,” in Helmut K. Anheier and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds. Encyclopedia of Global Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Pp. 850-859.

2011 “The Mall of the World,”Foreign Policy. (Online Article)

2011 “The World in a Building,”Berfrois. (Online Article)

2011 “Understanding Japanese Society Through Life After Death.” Japan Forum, Vol. 23, no. 3, Pp. 363-384.

2010 “On the Referee System as a Barrier to Global Anthropology.” The Asia-Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 52-63.

2010 “Les Traders Africains à Hong Kong et en China : L’abondance (du faux) à domicile.” Les Temps Modernes, Jan-March 2010, No. 657, pp. 110-124

2009 “Hong Kong Chinese Professors Within the “Western” University Model.” In Gregory S. Poole and Ya-chen Chen, eds., Higher Education in East Asia: Neoliberalism and the Professoriate. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Pp. 99-106

2008 “Why Japanese Anthropology is Ignored Beyond Japan.” Japanese Review of Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 9. Pp. 53-69

2008 “Chungking Mansions: A Center of ‘Low-End Globalization.’” Ethnology XLVI (2): 169-183.

2008 “La ‘brecha generacional’ en Japón” [The Japanese ‘Generation Gap’]. In Anuario Asia Pacifico 2007. Barcelona: Casa Asia. Pp. 485-492

2008 “Anthropology, Happiness, and Well-Being.” “Finding and Keeping a Purpose in Life: Well-Being and Ikigai in Japan and Elsewhere.” “Towards an Anthropology of Well-Being.” In G. Mathews and C. Izquierdo, eds, Pursuits of Happiness: Well-Being in Anthropological Perspective. London and New York: Berghahn. Pp. 1-19, 167-185, 248-266.

2008 “Kangju guojia rentong de xianggang: shi zhimin shidai de fuhezhe haishi quanqiuhua de xianqu [Hong Kong’s Resistance to National Identity: Echo of a Colonial Past or Harbinger of a Globalized Future?]” In Hao Zhidong, ed., Guojia rentong yu liang’an weilai [National Identity and the Future of Cross-Strait Relations]. Macau: University of Macau Press. Pp. 123-140.

2007 “Cultural Identity in an Age of Globalization: Implications on Architecture.” In Sang Lee and Ruth Baumeister, eds., The Domestic and the Foreign in Architecture. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers. Pp. 47-54.

2006 “Happiness and the Pursuit of a Life Worth Living: An Anthropological Approach.” In Yew-kwang Ng and Lok Sang Ho, eds., Happiness and Public Policy. Hampshire, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 147-168.

2006 “If Anthropology is a Science, then the East-West Dichotomy is Irrelevant: Moving Towards a Global Anthropology.” In J. Hendry and H. W. Wong, eds., Dismantling the East-West Dichotomy: Essays in Honour of Jan van Bremen. London: Routledge. Pp. 183-188.

2005 “Context and Consciousness in the Practice of Transnationality.” City and Society (American Anthropological Association / Society for Urban, National, Transnational, and Global Anthropology), vol. XVII, no. 1, pp. 35-48.

2004 “On the Tension Between Japanese and American Anthropological Depictions of Japan.” In S. Yamashita, J. Bosco, and J. Eades, eds.,The Making of Anthropology in East and Southeast Asia. New York: Berghahn. Pp. 114-135.

2004 “Fence, Flavour, and Phantasm: Japanese Musicians and the Meanings of Japaneseness.” Japanese Studies 24(3): 335-349.

2004 “Seeking a Career, Finding a Job: How Young People Enter and Resist the Japanese World of Work.” In G. Mathews and B. White, eds., Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society?, London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon. Pp. 121-136. Reprinted in D. P. Martinez, ed, Modern Japanese Society and Culture, Volume II: Life Courses, Gender, and the Self. London: Routledge, 2007.

2002 “Can ‘a Real Man’ Live For His Family? Ikigai and Masculinity in Today’s Japan.” In J. Roberson and N. Suzuki, eds., Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon. Pp. 109-125.

2002 Review Essay: “Japan’s Alternative Modernity in a Globalizing World.” American Anthropologist 104(3): 958-961

2001 “A Collision of Discourses: Japanese and Hong Kong Chinese During the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Crisis.” In H. Befu and S. Guichard-Anguis, eds., Globalizing Japan. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 153-175.

2001 “Bunkateki bunmyaku kara mita ikigai” (The Cultural Context of What Makes Life Worth Living). In Y. Takahashi and S. Wada, eds., Ikigai no shakaigaku (The Sociology of What Makes Life Worth Living). Tokyo: Kōbundo. Pp. 53-90.

2001 “Cultural Identity and Consumption in Post-Colonial Hong Kong.” In G. Mathews and T. Lui, eds., Consuming Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Pp.287-317.

1998 “The Contemporary Meanings of Culture: Why Hong Kong May Be the Most Exciting Place in the World to Do Anthropological Research.” In S. Cheung, ed., On the South China Track: Perspectives on Anthropological Research. Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong. Pp. 111-130.

1997 “Hèunggóngyàhn: On the Past, Present, and Future of Hong Kong Identity.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 29(3): 3-13. Reprinted in Benjamin Leung, ed., Hong Kong. International Library of Social Change in the Pacific, Aldershot U.K. Ashgate, 2003, and in Pun Ngai and Yee Lai-man, eds., Narrating Hong Kong Culture and Identity. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 2003.

1996 “Names and Identities in the Hong Kong Cultural Supermarket.” Dialectical Anthropology 21 (3,4): 399-419.

1996 “The Stuff of Dreams, Fading: Ikigai and ‘the Japanese Self.’” Ethos 24 (4): 718-747. Reprinted in D. P. Martinez, ed, Modern Japanese Society and Culture, Volume II: Life Courses, Gender, and the Self. London: Routledge, 2007.

1996 “The Pursuit of a Life Worth Living in Japan and the United States.” Ethnology XXXV (1): 51-62.

Personal interests

I also play music sometimes. Here is some brief performances with Leah Cheung:

Privacy Policy Disclaimer
Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Copyright @2024. All Rights Reserved.