Crook David

David Crook


David Crook was born on the 14th August 1910 in London to Jewish parents of a Russian background. He was sent to boarding school at Cheltenham.  He emigrated to seek a better life in New York City when he was age 18. But it was not a good time to go to New York, where he lived from 1929-38, engaged in an apprenticeship in the raw fur business. He was driven from the handling of raw skunk skins to a scholarship by Wall Street crash and became a student at Columbia University.


His political awakening was in Halran County, Kentucky, via a major coal-miners’ strike. Having joined an investigation team formed by activist classmates at Columbia University to look into the coalmine strike. But the authorities forcibly blocked the group, and it was never able to reach the mines.


By 1931, he had become a committed communist. By 1936, he had volunteered to fight in the International Brigades in Spain. Crook was wounded at the Battle of Jarama and hospitalized in besieged Madrid.


He says that he was recruited by the KGB for anti-Trotskyist espionage and was thus transferred from the International Brigade to assist in the street fighting that was unsettling Barcelona. He posed as journalist to spy on leftists, including George Orwell. Transferred to Shanghai, he sought to obtain information on a small Trotskyist group being nurtured there by an American. He then moved on to a university in Sichuan‘s provincial capital, Chengdu. There he met Isabel Brown, the daughter of Canadian missionaries. Isabel, who was raised in China and shared David’s interest in rural land reform. At the last minute, David managed to get out of Shanghai and got back into the USA, en route for the UK by working as a seaman in oil tanker convoy across Atlantic. He and Isabel married in London in 1942. Isabel joined the British Communist Party and served as a Canadian Women’s Corps nurse.


David served in the RAF during World War Two, which sent him for training for anti-Japanese intelligence and to India in 1942. There, he engaged in secret contact with the Indian Communist Party, whilst being formally employed to work as an Education and Welfare Officer. He was eventually removed from intelligence work and sent back to Britain. Even so, he was seriously considered by Sir Stafford Cripps as a possible Foreign Office China expert but instead studied Chinese at London University while continuing with activity  in the British Communist Party.


David and Isabel returned to China after the war to research the revolution’s progress In Communist Liberated Areas, where they studied village life and land reform under primitive conditions. After presenting a letter of introduction from the British Communist Party in 1947, the couple was able to settle in Shilidian (Ten Mile Inn) – a village in the Communist-controlled border region of Shanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Henan provinces.


From the late 1950s, he and Isabel sided with China against the Soviet Union and, in 1960, turned down an offer to teach at Leeds University so as to stay in China. David taught English and world history at Beijing Foreign Studies University for decades until he retired in the late 1980s.


The Crooks published `Revolution in a Chinese Village, Ten Mile Inn’ (London: Routledge & Paul, 1959; reprinted: New York: Pantheon Books, 1979) and `The First Years of Yangyi Commune’ (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966).


During the period of the cultural revolution in China, David Crook was denounced, arrested, imprisoned from 1967 to 1973 in solitary in top security gaol. After being released, he was rehabilitated and proclaimed innocent by Premier Zhou En-lai, enabling him to return to academia. During the next decades he focused on upholding Maoism in lecture tours involving wide global travel, especially to the US and Canada. Despite this, Crook – and some criticism for the current direction in China – considered that he had finally arrived at a liberation from blind support for dogmatic Marxism-Maoism.


He died in Beijing on the 1st November 2000.


Sources include: `HAMPSTEAD HEATH TO TIAN AN MEN’ Copyright © Crook Family 1991




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