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Witness to history

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-01 07:54

Witness to history

Isabel Crook, a Canadian teacher and social activist, during an interview at the Beijing Foreign Studies University campus in Beijing. [Photo by Akash Ghai/Provided to China Daily]

The 101-year-old Chinese-born Isabel Crook is among the country's early foreign educators.

In her long years here, first as a child of a Canadian missionary family in Southwest China's Sichuan province, and then as a teacher, Crook has witnessed many events: the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), the civil war, the founding of New China, the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) and China's reforms since the '70s.

"I am glad that I kept the records (of major events)," Crook says, while taking a stroll in a park near her apartment in the compound of Beijing Foreign Studies University, where she once taught.

She started anthropological research in Sichuan in 1939 after receiving her university degrees in Canada. As part of a social survey in a village there, she got to know many local people.

Crook and her Chinese research partner attended celebrations and studied community behavior in teahouses.

"The result ... was a human factor, which you can miss out if you just do mechanical investigations," she says.

After her retirement as an English teacher, Crook wrote the book Prosperity's Predicament: Identity, Reform and Resistance in Rural Wartime China. She now wants to publish a Chinese version of the book for which the translation is ongoing.

In the early 1940s, Crook became interested in communism after meeting her late husband, David Crook, who was an active communist.

"He had just come back from fighting in Spain to support the Spanish republic. He had also done some interesting things in China. That made a big impression on me," says Isabel Crook.

They married in London in 1942. Inspired by US journalist Edgar Snow's Red Star Over China, the couple returned to China a few years later to write a book about life in Communist-controlled areas. Parts of China back then were ruled by the Kuomintang and local warlords.

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