Isabel Crook has witnessed some of the most crucial moments in the country's modern history. Photos by Zhang Wei / China Daily
The daughter of Canadian missionaries has become a veteran 'foreign expert' in China—an author with a respectful and respected view of the country's socialist evolution.
Many people would be happy just to be around at age 90. Then there is Isabel Crook, who published yet another book a few months before turning 98. Crook began gathering material for Prosperity's Predicament: Identity, Reform and Resistance in Rural Wartime China in 1940, but didn't start writing it up until four decades later. In the intervening period, the Canadian woman started a family, earned a doctorate and focused on teaching English in China—seeing it as her part in nation-building alongside the Chinese Communist Party.
A Party representative approached Crook and her British husband in 1948, asking them to remain in China and teach English to future diplomats since "the liberation war would soon be won, and they would be setting up the People's Republic of China", Crook says in an interview at her Beijing home in early spring.
"They desperately needed teachers, especially for English," she says. "We promised to stay for at least a year or two."
They ended up staying permanently, becoming among the first teachers at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute (which later became the Beijing Foreign Studies University, one of the country's leading foreign-language schools).
From the outset, the couple asked to become "regular members" of the teaching staff, which meant they could get involved in political study and the various movements of the Mao Zedong era, Isabel said in 2008 in her convocation address at the University of Toronto's Victoria University.