David Crook

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David Crook
Born(1910-08-14)14 August 1910
Died1 November 2000(2000-11-01) (aged 90)
Communist activist
Political partyCommunist Party of Great Britain
Communist Party of China
Spouse(s)Isabel Brown
Military career
AllegianceRepublican faction (Spanish Civil War)
Battles/warsSpanish Civil War

David Crook (14 August 1910 – 1 November 2000) was a British-born Communist ideologue, activist and spy, long resident in China. A committed Marxist from 1931, he joined the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), then was recruited by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, and was sent to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). There he met and married his wife, Isabel, a teacher and social activist. Following the Second World War and the Chinese Civil War, the couple stayed in China and taught English.[1]

In 1959, the Crooks published Revolution in a Chinese Village, Ten Mile Inn[2] and in 1966 came The First Years of Yangyi Commune.[3] The British Sinologist Delia Davin wrote that through that "classic study" and other writings and talks, the Crooks "provided a positive picture of China to the outside world at a time when cold war simplifications were the norm."[4] The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) called Revolution a "seminal work, which has been bringing the achievements and challenges of the Chinese agrarian revolution to life for English-speaking readers since 1959."[5] Crook died at 90 after spending his last five decades in China, his political beliefs largely unshaken despite five years' imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76).[6]


Youth and education[edit]

Crook was born in London in 1910. "My father was a Jewish cockney Royalist, raised in the East End of London, by immigrant parents who fled Czarist Russia to avoid anti-Semitism and conscription into a pork-eating army," wrote Crook in his autobiography.[7]

International Communist[edit]

After being wounded on his first day at the front in Spain, he was returned to a hospital in Madrid. While in Madrid, he was recruited by the NKVD to spy on those whom the Stalinists called Trotskyites, a group which included George Orwell. Crook later expressed regret for his part in the deaths of innocent members of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM).[8]

The NKVD then sent him to China. There he taught English at Saint John's University, Shanghai to spy on a Trotskyite whose arguments in fact began to convince him. Crook proceeded to Chengdu and was there when it was bombed by the Japanese. While there he met his future wife, Isabel Brown, daughter of Canadian missionaries.[9]

Hitler's invasion of Russia in June 1941 ended this fling with Trotskyism. Upon his return to England, Crook re-joined the British Communist Party and joined the Royal Air Force, then married Isabel. During the war, he worked for British intelligence throughout Asia and contacted local communist movements.[10]

From Liberation to Tiananmen[edit]

After study at University of London, the Crooks returned to China to teach English in a rural school which trained staff for the foreign service of the future government. They observed and participated in the land reform movements carried out by the Chinese Communist Party in North China villages and produced a "thick description" which they published in their widely cited Ten Mile Village (1959).[11] They entered Beijing with the victorious Communists at "Liberation" in 1949 and for the next forty years, the Crooks taught at the Peking First Foreign Languages Institute (now the Beijing Foreign Studies University).[12]

Despite his long-time loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, Crook was imprisoned in 1967 by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. When he was freed in 1973 he found his captors sincere but misguided.[13] After his death, his wife told China Daily that "He was well aware that 'revolution is not a dinner party' so he never blamed China for his lengthy stay in Qincheng prison."[14]

His autobiography describes his gradual (and qualified) recognition after emerging from prison of the faults of Mao Zedong and of the shortcomings of Marxism.[citation needed] Ironically, reading George Orwell, on whom he had spied in Spain in the 1930s, was especially convincing.[15] In 1989, the Crooks criticised the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests. Crook remarks in his autobiography, written shortly after, that 1989 marked the "end of my decades of adulation. I had thought that People's China was humanity's guide to a better world. I still acknowledge her past achievements. But her record has been tragically tarnished."[16]

Personal life[edit]

Crook died in Beijing in 2000. He was survived by his wife, Isabel, and their three sons.


  1. ^ Hampstead Heath to Tian An Men – The autobiography of David Crook
  2. ^ London: Routledge & Paul, 1959; reprinted: New York: Pantheon Books, 1979
  3. ^ London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966
  4. ^ "David Crook A communist who fought against Franco, spied for Stalin and wrote a classic book on change in China" (Obituary) Delia Davin The Guardian, Sunday 17 December 2000
  5. ^ Review: Ten Mile Inn by David and Isabel Crook Proletarian Online 51 (December 2012)
  6. ^ Hochschild, Adam (19 Dec 2013), “Orwell: Homage to the ‘Homage’”, New York Review of Books.
  7. ^ unpublished online autobiography.
  8. ^ In a Valley Called Jarama
  9. ^ "Spain to China – Agent to Educator (1938–41)," Crook, Hampstead Heath to Tiananamen
  10. ^ Back to Britain and into the R.A.F. (1941–42) Crook, Hampstead Heath to Tiananamen
  11. ^ Julia Strauss, "Rethinking Land Reform," in Mechthild Leutner, ed. Rethinking China in the 1950s. (Münster; London: Lit; Global, 2007. p. 25.
  12. ^ Bloomsbury Square to Taihang Mountains (1946–47) Crook, Hampstead Heath to Tiananamen
  13. ^ Tom Buchanan, East Wind: China and the British Left, 1925–1976 (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 184
  14. ^ "Man of the people," Lin Qi China Daily Updated 10/20/10
  15. ^ Ballad of Beijing Gaol (1967–73) Crook, Hampstead Heath to Tiananamen
  16. ^ Tian An Men Testimony (1989–90) Crook, Hampstead Heath to Tiananamen

Further reading[edit]

  • Li Zhengling 李正凌 et al. (eds.). Kēlǔkè fūfù zài Zhōngguó 柯鲁克夫妇在中国 : David and Isabel Crook in China. Wàiyǔ jiàoxué yǔ yánjiū chūbǎnshè 外语教学与研究出版社, ²2010, ISBN 978-7-5600-0963-6. In Chinese and English, with articles by Israel Epstein, Sidney Shapiro etc.
  • "Reconstructing the Foreign Teacher: The Nativization of David Crook in Beijing," Craig K. JACOBSEN Frontiers of Education in China 7.3 (2012) 443–463 [1]


  • Isabel Crook and David Crook. Revolution in a Chinese Village, Ten Mile Inn. (London,: Routledge and Paul, International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, 1959. ISBN 0710033931.
  • Isabel Crook and David Crook. The First Years of Yangyi Commune. (London,: Routledge & K. Paul, International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, 1966. ISBN
  • Isabel Crook and David Crook. Ten Mile Inn : Mass Movement in a Chinese Village. (New York: Pantheon Books, The Pantheon Asia Library 1st, 1979. ISBN 0394411781
  • 北京外国语大学英语系词典组. Chinese-English Dictionary. 外语教学与研究出版社, 1994. ISBN 7560007392.

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