Feature: Centenarian Canadian anthropologist's home in SW China

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-05 15:26:11|Editor: mingmei
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BEIJING, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- Isabel Crook, an 104-year-old Canadian anthropologist, was named Honorary Citizen of Bishan District, Chongqing Municipality in southwest China, with her hands trembling and tears in her eyes.

The special ceremony was held in Beijing last week in memory of her great contribution to the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.

About eight decades ago, Crook conducted field work in Daxing Township, Bishan District of Chongqing. She opened clinics and taught Chinese characters during her research and has kept in touch with many locals ever since.

Born in southwest China's Sichuan province in 1915, Crook's bond with China has deep roots. Her parents came to China as missionaries and taught at a local medical school at that time.

In her teenage years, her parents often took her on trips in the mountains, where Crook came into contact with different Chinese ethnic groups and developed an interest in anthropology.

In 1938, Crook returned to China after graduating from the University of Toronto with a master's degree. Two years later, Crook was invited to Xinglong Chang, now called Daxing Township, to conduct a survey on the economic conditions of more than 1,500 households to help establish agricultural cooperatives.

This particular fieldwork did not go as smoothly as expected. To ward off bandits, the villagers usually kept fierce dogs. When knocking on doors, Crook and her companion Yu Xiji had to use sticks to defend themselves against the dogs. Crook was not afraid.

The female identity of Crook and Yu Xiji facilitated the survey. "No one saw us as a threat. Women loved to talk to us and men didn't care so much." Within months, local people gradually came to regard them as acquaintances rather than strangers.

Soon after, Crook's house became a kind of teahouse for local women to chat with each other, which made her survey easier to conduct.

Crook and Yu Xiji also built a clinic that soon became famous after delivering the children of several local women who had difficulty giving birth and ran free literacy classes for poor children.

"I miss Miss Isabel. I got a lot of help from her and will never forget her," said Crook's student, Cao Hongying, a 95-year-old villager.

In early 1942, due to the change of the situation in the Pacific battlefield, the survey was suspended. With regret, Crook departed for England.

Five years later, Crook came back to China with her husband, an English Communist.

The couple were invited to teach English at a newly established foreign affairs school, then called Beijing Foreign Studies University, training diplomatic talents for the People's Republic of China to be founded in the coming years.

In 1999, Crook and her friend Ke Linqing set up a special fund to support poor students in Daxing Township where the only application requirement was to write letters to her. Up to now, the fund has helped more than 10 students to finish their studies from primary school to university.

Crook never forgot her surveys in Chongqing. In the early 1980s, after retiring from the university, she reopened the drawer with her research materials inside and decided to compile the valuable materials into a book so that the younger generations could know more about Chinese rural society.

In August 1981, at the age of 66, Crook returned to Daxing Township. She would return to the small town on five further occasions to collect more materials for her book.

In January 2013, the book, "Xinglong Chang: Field Notes of a Village Called Prosperity 1940-1942," was published, and it is considered to be of great significance to the study of the economy, education, gender relations and rural construction in China's rural areas during the Anti-Japanese War.

Today, over 100 years old, Crook is still in good spirits, and her eyes light up everytime she recalls old friends and her past at Daxing Township.

"It was a very interesting time because we did something that I think is quite historic," she said.