​Isabel Crook: A life-long friend of China

China Plus/CGTN Published: 2019-09-26 20:49:46
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Canadian Isabel Crook, a prominent educator who witnessed the history of the People's Republic of China and devoted herself to the country 【Screenshot/Chinaplus】

Six foreigners have been awarded the Friendship Medal for their great contributions to supporting China's socialist modernization, promoting exchanges and cooperation between China and foreign countries, and safeguarding world peace.

CRI reporter Guo Yan brings the story of Canadian Isabel Crook, a prominent educator who witnessed the history of the People's Republic of China and devoted herself to the country.

"I just like to say I'm very happy about these birthday greetings being given to me. That's very friendly and warm, and…(they are)good friends."

Isabel Crook appreciated the warm greetings from her family, students and friends at her 103rd birthday in Beijing. Now 104 years old, she is a witness to the founding of the People's Republic of China. She remembers the historic moment when the People's Liberation Army entered Beijing.

"We looked all down the street and it was heads of people, students, lots of students all with red triangular flags. They were waving and came along the incoming army and then came the incoming cavalry which is very exciting. It is the most joyful I think I've ever watched."

Isabel was born to a missionary couple in Chengdu in 1915 and spent most of her childhood there before going to Canada for higher education.In the 1940s the anthropologist and her husband returned to China. The couple went to Shilidian, a village in Hebei province controlled by the communists, where a massive campaign of land reform was taking place.

Isabel says she believed the revolutionary movement would reshape the future of the impoverished rural areas.She decided to stay there and did field work on rural studies, which then became valuable documents with vivid accounts of the real lives of rural households, recording the dramatic change in the vast rural places.

"The land reform will obviously change the whole future of China's history, because it will get rid of China's feudal system and left the old ways of doing things. Because they put the working people the farmers in power, rather than going on the old way."

The Crook couple wrote a book named Revolution in a Chinese Village: Ten Mile Inn, which was then published in London in 1959 and 20 years later in New York.The book introduced the unprecedented social reform in China to the rest of the world.

"One of my reasons to study the land reform was to be able to write the book that could help the Indians and help other colonial people learn from China."

When Isabel finished her field work and was about to leave China she received a letter from Yie Jianying, a prominent army chief and headmaster of a military academy. The letter came as a surprise to the couple and changed their lives ever after in a way they didn't expect.

"It was around Christmas. Wang Bingnan came and asked us to stay because China was soon going to win the liberation war and will set up People's republic of China and will have a foreign ministry with diplomats who are able to speak and have good command of English."

Isabel and her husband decided to stay and worked as teachers in a foreign study school in Hebei Province, which then morphed into one of China's top foreign language universities. Their passion for teaching lasted decades and cultivated a lot of young talents with expertise in foreign languages. In 1974, Isabel returned to Canada to visit her parents, and many of her friends and colleagues believed she would settle down in her hometown. But to everyone's surprise, Isabel returned to China after only a short stay in Canada.

"So much of our life was spent here on the campus. Beiwai (Beijing Foreign Studies University) our close friends. Our friends here are over thirty years are close friends right here in Beijing. Our Chinese friends our fellow teachers, the people we cared most are here in Beijing. China was the first home Canada was the second home."

Ever since then, Isabel has stayed in China and devoted the rest her life to teaching and education reform. Her efforts helped transform her school - a language college - into a university with multiple disciplines. Former Beijing Foreign Studies University Vice President Hu Wenzhong was one of her prominent students and a close friends with whom she worked with to press ahead reforms in education. Hu says he's impressed by his teacher's courage to go against the tide and make a difference.

"They have independent views on teaching. They were really courageous in terms of pressing ahead reforms. They had audacious ideas and are dauntless to make a change. They never held back their opinion nor hesitated to put their words into action or follow the crowd. We've been friends for over 50 years. For me they are great teachers and friends and role models as well. They influenced my entire life."

Isabel and other awardees of the Friendship Medals not only witnessed the shift of the fortune of China, but also contributed their passion, love and expertise to the modernization of the country, which won them wide admiration from the public and the highest honor of the country.

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