• By: Dan Donovan

Despite ongoing diplomatic tensions, Chinese President Xi Jinping awards prestigious award to Canadian centenarian Isabel Crook

Chinese President Xi Jinping set aside the continuing diplomatic tensions between the Canadian and Chinese governments to present a Medal of Friendship to centenarian Isabel Crook, a Canadian anthropologist and educator who was born in China, in 1915, to a missionary family. Crook was the oldest awardee at the ceremony in Beijing on Sunday September 29, 2019 and in presenting the award, President Xi recognized Crook’s exceptional life and career and friendship with China.

The national medals, and other awards are presented to people who ‘demonstrate with their actions that greatness comes out of the ordinary’. President Xi conveyed his congratulations and respect to the heroes and role models who received the Medal of the Republic and honourary titles, and to foreign friends, who received the Medal of Friendship. “Today, we honour these heroes and role models with the highest standards to promote their qualities of loyalty, perseverance and humbleness," he said. Xi highlighted their loyalty to China and its people, their dedication to hard work for decades in fields where the Party and the people needed them most and their humbleness in making huge sacrifices in ordinary jobs without pursuing fame or self-interest. "Heroes and role models once again demonstrate with their actions that greatness comes out of the ordinary," Xi said.

Forty-two Chinese and foreign individuals, including Crook were honoured ahead of the 70th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Other honorees included the “father of hybrid rice” Yuan Longping and Nobel Prize winner Tu Youyou, who is credited with discovering the antimalarial drug artemisinin.

Promotional poster from a December 2018 celebration of Isabel Crook's life held at Beijing Foreign Studies University

Over the last 100 years, Crook has had a long and enduring relationship with the Chinese people. She has witnessed two world wars, two revolutions, several mass movements and has, at the invitation of the Chinese government, lived in villages in rural China to take detailed notes on people’s lives and living conditions as an anthropologist.

To read more about Crook’s incredible life visit the link below where she tells her incredible story.


Isabel Crook has seen many chapters in the Canada Chinese relationship over the past century. She is deeply committed to China and Canada and loves both countries. Her life has been dedicated to seeing the best in both.

There is a lesson there for Canada and China as they continue to navigate very choppy waters.