China: Isabel Crook

My experience in China shows how the Chinese have treated a foreigner who wants to take part in the revolution. We have had ups and downs, but the comradeship is very real at the grassroots level.

— Isabel Crook

Isabel Crook worked in 1940/41 in the Chinese rural reconstruction movement promoting cooperatives. Later she and her husband were requested by the new Chinese state cadres from the Foreign Ministry to stay and teach. After teaching for over 30 years, Isabel joined the International Committee for the Promotion of Industrial Cooperatives (ICCIC), an NGO that aims to further the development of cooperative economies in the present historical period to enable them to serve China's socialist modernization.

Isabel Crook, a Canadian anthropologist, has spent most of her life in China. During the Cultural Revolution, her husband was locked up in solitary confinement in Qincheng prison, while Isabel was locked up in the university campus. But she has no resentment – they were fully exonerated and were able to come through the experience strengthened rather than embittered. “I have many rich memories, and the bitterness has drifted away. Some people are not so fortunate so it is not so easy for them to forget the bitterness, and the sad memories are a burden to them. Those people that can remember the happier things lead a much better and healthier life,” says Isabel. She was let out in 1972, her husband in 1973. They resumed their teaching at Beijing Foreign Languages University. Isabel has been writing a book on her early rural research, and has also kept up her political activism. She loves a poem by Bertolt Brecht: “The house was built with the stones that were there, the picture was painted with the colors that were there, the revolution was made by the rebels that were there." "It is such a realistic poem about the revolution," she says. "The revolution was made not by angels, but by ordinary people who wanted a just society. Of course they also made mistakes. That’s an unavoidable part of the learning process.”

Beijing Foreign Languages University