Xu, a granddaughter of the eminent convert Hsu Kuang-chi (1562-1633), was deeply religious from childhood. After she was widowed at the age of 46, she delicated herself to serving the church. With zeal and ingenuity, undeterred by the restrictions the secluded life of an upper-class woman in traditional Chinese society placed on her, she worked to spread Christianity in China.
Through the influence of her father and son, she secured for the Jesuit missionaries the good will of many provincial and local officials. She promoted the work of lay spiritual associations among Chinese Christians and was the leader of Christian women in the Shanghai area. Having by diligence and thrift raised a private income, she donated generously to the living expenses of the missionaries, financed the building of nearly forty churches and chapels, and funded publication of many Christian doctrinal and devotional works in Chinese.
Called by the Jesuit missionaries the Apostle of China, Xu and her story of faith, devotion, and good works became known in Europe in the late seventeenth century through the biography written by her Jesuit confessor, Philippe Couplet.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Philippe Couplet, Histoire d’une dame chretienne de la Chine (1688). Biographies of Xu are also included in Jean Charbonnier, Histoire des Chretiens de Chine (1992), and in Fang Hao, Zhongguo tianzhujiaoshi renwuzhuan (Biographies of People in the History of the Catholic Church in China), vol. 2 (1970).