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Michael Crook's Journey to Rediscover His Mother's Legacy in Xinglong Chang | Story

By XINYI LI|May 31,2024

Chongqing - On May 29, Bishan District's Daxing Town welcomed a special guest - Michael Crook, co-founder of the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) and the second son of Canadian educator and anthropologist Isabel Crook. Despite being in his seventies, Michael remains vigorous and energetic, referring to this land affectionately as "Prosperity."

Michael Crook (left) and Wu Zhimin, former principal of Daxing Primary School in Bishan District, assisted Isabel in collecting residents' information during her investigation in Bishan. (Photo/Yue Xingchen)

Michael's deep connection to Daxing Town stems from his mother, Isabel Crook, an international communist, recipient of the Friendship Medal of the People's Republic of China, educator, anthropologist, pioneer of English teaching in China, expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University, honorary professor, and honorary citizen of Bishan. His visit aims to retrace Isabel's footsteps and revisit the places where she once lived and worked.

The old house where Isabel once lived. (Photo/Yue Xingchen)

In October 1940, Isabel arrived in Xinglong Chang (now Daxing Town in Bishan) with great enthusiasm to investigate local residents' economic and living conditions. Her goal was to establish a salt cooperative to aid people experiencing poverty. Due to unavoidable circumstances, the investigation was interrupted, but she returned to Daxing Town six times between 1981 and 2004 to continue her research. In January 2013, she officially published her findings in a book titled Xinglong Chang: Field Notes of a Village Called Prosperity 1940–1942.

Isabel (center) and Yu Xiji (far right) revisited Bishan after more than 40 years (photo taken in 1983, with Cao Hongying second from the left). (Photo/Zhang Jian)

During his visit, Michael explored the house where Isabel once lived. Now uninhabited but still retaining the architectural charm of the Republic of China period with its mud bricks and green tiles, he touched the exterior walls and asked about its history: "How long did my mother live here?" and "What was its original purpose?" The current owner of the house and the writer, Zhang Jian, answered his questions, bringing clarity and insight to Michael's inquiries and enriching his visit.

Zhang Jian, the author of Faith Illuminating Life - The Story of Isabel Crook and Xinglong Chang, meticulously recounts Isabel's early 1940s involvement in Xinglong Chang. Invited by the renowned educator and rural reformer Yan Yangchu, Isabel participated in rural development projects, investigating the economic conditions of 1,500 residents, conducting women's literacy classes, introducing Western medicine, and establishing salt cooperatives. This book provides a comprehensive look at Isabel's life, with a focus on her significant contributions to Xinglong Chang.

Zhang Jian (left) and Isabel Crook (right). (Photo/Zhang Jian)

"I heard the bell. I want to see the children..." At Daxing Junior High School, Michael greeted the students in simple English, inquiring about their studies and favorite subjects and taking photos with them warmly. He continued his enthusiastic interactions with students at Daxing Primary School.

Michael Crook interacted with students at Daxing Primary School in Bishan District. (Photo/Yue Xingchen)

"The creativity of the children is so vibrant. The stone paintings are beautiful and remind me of Byron's poetry. Daxing's education is excellent," Michael remarked, laughing and surrounded by the delighted children.

Throughout his visit to Daxing, Michael displayed childlike curiosity, exploring the places his mother had touched. Isabel's efforts have left a lasting impact on Daxing's education system, and the local people will never forget the elegant figure in a blue gown and straw shoes who once roamed their countryside.

(Han Xi, as an intern, also contributed to this report.)


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