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New biography chronicles Isabel Crook's story

By FANG AIQING and HUANG ZHILING | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-06-01 09:00

1. Isabel Crook, seen with her husband, has lived in an apartment at Beijing Foreign Studies University since the 1950s. 2. Isabel Crook stays with villager Guo Jinrong in Shilidian, Hebei, in 1948. 3. The Crooks and colleague William Hinton (left) prepare to teach at the Central Foreign Affairs School in 1948. [Photo/China Daily]

Valuable texts

Isabel Crook also worked with US historian Christina Gilmartin (1946-2012), and in 2013, she published the book Prosperity's Predicament: Identity, Reform, and Resistance in Rural Wartime China (1940-1941). A Chinese-language version of the work was published in 2018.

German sociologist Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) included the English-language version of the first notes on Xinglongchang that Crook wrote with Yu in a series of books called The International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, together with works by sociologists Fei Xiaotong (1910-2005), Martin C. Yang (1904-88) and Lin Yaohua (1910-2000).

The notes on Xinglongchang were completed during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

Works by the Crooks provided valuable texts to better understand the pre-modern-day Chinese countryside and changes in villages introduced by the Communist Party of China.

On May 13, the writer He Xiangyang said during an online seminar to discuss Isabel Crook's life and the new biography that the book reveals her contribution as an anthropologist, and that her academic life is easily overlooked.

However, He said it is sad that Crook, now 107, is unable to summarize the material she collected more than 80 years ago and write her research report on Bashinao and other ethnic villages.

Isabel Crook's son Michael said during the seminar that the biography includes some of his mother's stories from childhood that even the family was unaware of. He added that as a large number of foreigners have contributed to China, it is worthwhile documenting their experiences.

Author Tan thinks that Isabel Crook's concern about and sincere love for the Chinese people, and the public's kindness and devotion to her family, made her and her husband decide to stay in China.

Tan graduated from a primary school named after US education reformer John Dewey (1859-1952).Isabel Crook's parents took part in the school's founding in 1915, and her mother was the school's principal for three years. Tan lived near the couple's old residence, but he only got to know Isabel Crook when she was 100.

He said she has lived in an apartment at Beijing Foreign Studies University for 67 years, sleeping in a small bed from which she fell and broke a bone when she was 103.

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