China-based educationist Isabel Crook passes away

Wan Lixin
Isabel Crook and her husband David were pioneers of English education, even creating a curriculum and compiling textbooks for teaching the language in the new China.
Wan Lixin
China-based educationist Isabel Crook passes away

On September 29, 2019, Isabel Crook (second left) was awarded the Friendship Medal, China's highest honor for foreigners, for her contributions to the nation's foreign language education.

Isabel Crook, a 107-year-old Canadian educator based in Beijing, died on Sunday.

Crook was a recipient of China's highest distinction for foreigners, the Friendship Medal, and is a name familiar to many Chinese English language students.

Along with her husband, David Crook (1910–2000), the Crooks had lengthy careers as English teachers, including at what is today Beijing Foreign Studies University.

They were pioneers of English education, devising a curriculum and compiling textbooks for English instruction in the new China. Their efforts led to the cultivation of a large number of professionals in the fields of foreign affairs and language instruction.

Through their regular contributions to language journals such as "The English Language Learning," they also made an incalculable number of young Chinese proficient in English, particularly in the early years following the reforms and opening-up of China in 1979.

Isabel Crook was born to a Canadian missionary family in China on December 15,1915.

The couple published "Revolution in a Chinese Village" in 1959. At a time when Cold War stereotypes were the norm, they provided a positive image of China to the outside world through this classic study and other writings and talks.

She met David in the summer of 1940 in Chengdu. They became engaged, and a year later they were married in London.

David joined the Royal Air Force and was sent to India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Burma (Myanmar) during World War II, whereas Isabel served in the Canadian Women's Army Corps.

After the war, Isabel Crook enrolled in a doctoral program at the London School of Economics and Political Science under anthropologist Raymond Firth, but she had to discontinue her studies.

In 1950, she wrote to Firth from China.

"Dave and I have both changed a lot since we first came here three years ago. We came here in the first place more or less to see and study what was going on. Now we have become more and more directly absorbed in the great changes going on in China. Therefore I do not feel that I can leave here in the very near future as you advise and as the Committee stimulates."

The Crooks' work on rural China contributed to a better understanding of the Chinese countryside and the changes that have taken place in liberated areas.

But they are better known today in China for their work as English teachers than for their field research in rural China.

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