1865  — 1948

Xu Shengyan

A famous pastor in southern Fujian during the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, he served as pastor of Jinjing Church of the Church of Christ in China for more than 50 years. He founded Jinjing Yuying School and Minnan Bible College and served as the dean. He served as the president of Xiamen Holy Way University, the president of the Quanzhou District Church of the Church of China, and the Minnan General Conference. He served as president and vice president of the National General Conference of the China Christian Council.

Xu Shengyan, the secondary name was Ziyu, was born in 1865 in a poor family in Qianpo Village, Anhai, Jinjiang. Ever since the British Presbyterian missionary Carstairs Douglas had introduced the Christian gospel to this area in 1856, the number of believers in the Lord had continued to increase. Xu Shengyan’s father, Xu Taibo, was one of the early Christians. After diligent study and pursuit, he became a preacher.

Xu Shengyan grew up in a Christian family environment and began receiving primary education at the age of 10. He was talented and intelligent, and studied hard, and his academic performance was among the best in his class. Therefore, he was appreciated by the British Presbyterian missionaries, who recommended him for entrance to the Huilan Middle School in Gulangyu Island, Xiamen. Xu Shengyan studied at the school for three years and graduated with honors.

He then entered Xiamen Holy Way Academy, founded by British missionaries, to continue his studies. In response to the needs of the church at that time, Xu Shengyan, who had only been in school for two years, was sent to Nan’an Guanqiao as an acting preacher, thus beginning his lifelong career of serving the Lord.

After Xu Shengyan graduated, he was assigned to preach in Hutou, Anxi, and also took care of the pastoral work of Guanqiao Church. In 1890, Xu Shengyan went to Jinjing, a famous hometown of overseas Chinese in the southeast of Jinjiang, to develop a gospel center. There were only 10 believers there at the time. Under his pastoral care, the number of believers increased day by day. Xu Shengyan built the first church that year, and the following year he established Yuying Yishu (the predecessor of Yuying Middle School) next to the church.

In 1894, Xu Shengyan applied to serve as the principal of Xiamen Holy Way School to train pastors and preach for surrounding churches. In 1895, the number of people in Jinjing Church increased, and with the approval of the Anhai Mother Church, they established an autonomous church and were in urgent need of capable pastors. When selecting a pastor, the Jinjing congregation unanimously elected Xu Shengyan as the pastor of the church. Xu Shengyan saw the call of the church and the expectations of the congregation, so he resigned from his position as principal and returned to Jinjing.

In August 1896, Xu Shengyan was ordained as the first pastor of Jinjing Church. Shortly thereafter, a ten-year-long plague struck the Jinjing area. More than 300 people in the church, including 15 deacons, died in the plague. Throughout the plague, Xu Shengyan firmly trusted in God, and trusted in God for everything. Not afraid of infection, he still visited believers, cared for the sick, and performed burial services for the dead; he even adopted many orphans who had lost their parents. The beautiful testimony of the love of Christ demonstrated in him deeply impacted all believers and also attracted many non-believers. The number of followers of the Lord increased day by day, and the church became more prosperous.

After the plague, Jinjing Church did not shrink, but experienced a great revival. By 1928, there were nearly 400 registered believers, making it one of the churches with the largest number of believers in southern Fujian. Xu Shengyan attached great importance to the spiritual life of his members. According to different life situations, he established various fellowships and class meetings in the church, such as encouragement meetings, mothers’ meetings, youth fellowships, Sunday schools, visiting teams, evangelism teams and Bible discussion classes, etc. Most of the Sunday worship activities were hosted by the leaders of these groups and other groups in turn.

He also held special Bible studies, revival meetings, annual evangelistic meetings, as well as spiritual retreats, spiritual training meetings, etc. during the Spring Festival. On the one hand, these activities enlivened the faith life of the church, and on the other hand, they cultivated leadership talent, strengthened the faith of believers, and enhanced their love and enthusiasm.

Xu Shengyan insisted that the Chinese church should be self-reliant, self-supporting and self-propagating, and should not accept financial subsidies from foreign missions. Jinjing Church originally belonged to the British Presbyterian Mission, but it never accepted subsidies from the mission. The financial resources of Jinjing Hall mainly relied on the donations of members, such as regular “tithes” and “five donations”; Thanksgiving donations during the Spring Festival, and special donations from members; in addition, there were donations from members living overseas, etc. By being financially self-supporting, it was possible to achieve self-government and self-propagation without being subject to the control and interference of missions.

There were nine branches under the Jinjing Church established by Xu Shengyan, namely Yuhu, Shenhu, Shitou, Keren, Wubao, Panjing, Qiancang, Yakou, Yinglin and other churches. Its jurisdiction included Qianjing. There were sixcongregations in Shenhu: Shenhu, Longhu, Yinglin, Yonghe and Dongshi. There were five Tongli pastors, several full-time and part-time preachers, and thousands of members and seekers. It was said that the Jinjing Hall “had a vast area of jurisdiction, a large scale, and a large number of members,” which was rare in China.

Xu Shengyan was re-elected as pastor of Jinjing Church of the Chinese Christian Church for more than 50 years. He preached “pure salvation” throughout his life, opposed the Social Gospel, and resisted various heresies that had invaded the church.

Because of his ministry, ability and reputation, Xu Shengyan was successively elected as president of the Quanzhou District Conference of Chinese Christians, president of the Southern Fujian Conference, and vice president of the National General Conference of the China Christian Council.

In order to cultivate preachers and leaders, he served as the president of Xiamen Holy Way University, founded Jinjing Yuying School and Minnan Bible College (1939), served as the school’s president (chairman) and college dean, and taught churches at home and abroad. He recruited many talented people and promoted the spread of the gospel. At that time, most of the preachers and pastors of the Southern Fujian Church came from the University of the Holy Spirit, Peiyuan Middle School, Yuying School and the Southern Fujian Bible College. Most of the preachers and pastors in Southeast Asian countries were alumni of Peiyuan and Yuying schools and members of the Jinjing Church. There were also many people engaged in business and education in Nanyang. This shows the influence of Pastor Xu Shengyan.

Not only that, Xu Shengyan also made significant contributions to local customs and education. He broke the traditional concept that “a woman’s lack of talent is a virtue” and founded the Yuying Women’s School. He also established women’s schools in Shizhen, Liuao, Weitou, and other townships near Jinjing to recruit girls. He vigorously advocated and promoted women’s “natural feet.” Previously, women had to have their feet bound, and there was a popular notion that the smaller their feet, the more beautiful they would be. Women who did not have their feet bound were regarded as “barefoot women,” which was disgraceful. However, most women in churches and mission schools “let their feet go,” which had a great impact on the local society. Although it was criticized at first, soon women in general society also “let their feet go” one after another, the number of girls with bound feet gradually decreased, and this gradually became a custom and trend.

In addition, the church also promoted Western medicine and new things such as “cowpox” vaccination, which had a beneficial and far-reaching impact on the local area.

Xu Shengyan had great influence and prestige not only within the church, but also in society. In the late Qing Dynasty, he assisted the local government in stopping and mediating a feudal feud known as the “Du Cai Wan.” From 1902 to 1907, the armed fighting between the Du, Hong and Cai clans in southern Jinjiang involved hundreds of villages. It lasted for five or six years and resulted in the deaths of three to four hundred people on both sides. Quanzhou prefect Li Zengwei (commonly known as “Li Benfu”) went to the countryside to handle the case and sent troops to arrest the leaders of both parties and “tricksters,” including some Christians. Because Xu Shengyan was the leader of the church, he never got involved in the conflict, and he spoke fairly and had a solid reputation in society, so he won the trust and reliance of Magistrate Li. Those church believers who were arrested in connection with the case were immediately released as soon as Xu Shengyan opened his mouth in their defense, interceded, or provided bail. Later, many non-believers were also released on the basis of their pleas. Therefore, Xu Shengyan played a major role in mediating the “Du Cai injustice” case. After the case was settled, Magistrate Li specially gave Xu Shengyan a plaque with the inscription “Care for Sangzi” and hung it in Yuying School.

Before and after the Anti-Japanese War, the National Army Battalion Commander Xiang Qiang was stationed in Jinjing and stayed in the chapel to “protect his house.” He often sent people around to arrest so-called “traitors” and then used electrocution to extract confessions. Xu Shengyan was often entrusted by the villagers to find Xiang Qiang to intercede for the people involved, and they were often released. During his interaction with Pastor Xu, Xiang Qiang was later inspired by him and was baptized into Christ. The church held a grand baptism ceremony for him to witness “God’s wonderful salvation,” which caused a sensation.

Pastor Xu Shengyan also actively promoted Christian literature ministry and kept writing throughout his life, especially in the field of church history, using his writings to show the development of the gospel in southern Fujian. His works, A Brief History of the Presbyterian Church in Southern Fujian for Eighty Years (1920), and A Brief History of the Chinese Christian Church in Southern Fujian (1934) are of high historical value and have great influence in southern Fujian. The monthly magazine Golden Sound he founded and edited was published for many years and was sold at home and abroad. It was widely praised and influential not only in his church, but also in churches in southern Fujian and Nanyang.

Xu Shengyan’s wife was the sister of Wu Fengbo, pastor of Quanzhou West Street Church. She gave birth to six sons and seven daughters. Except for the fourth son, fifth son, and seventh daughter who died young, the other children and sons-in-law were all involved in domestic and Nanyang business circles and were giants in the fields of education and medicine. It is said that together with his son-in-law and grandson, the whole family had a total of hundreds of people.

Xu Shengyan’s eldest son, Xu Xihui, was the pastor of Shishi Church and the pastor of Yongning Church. The second son, Xu Xi’en, graduated from Xiagu Xunyuan Academy at the age of nineteen. He taught in Qiangang for two years and then returned to Yuying, first as a teacher and then as the principal. Altogether, he served at Yuying for thirty-nine years. During his tenure at Yuying, he adhered to his father’s will to focus on Christian education and turned Yuying into a church school with pure beliefs. On the other hand, he focused on quality instruction and became famous at home and abroad for his strict school administration.

The third son, Xu Zion, was trained by the British Presbyterian Church, which paid his education expenses in middle school and university. After graduating from Yanjing University, he returned to Quanzhou Peiyuan Middle School and served as dormitory supervisor and principal. After 1937, his actual status was almost that of the chief principal of the thirteen religious middle schools in southern Fujian.

The sixth son, Xu Xiren, once served as the principal of Yongchun Christian Middle School - Yuxian Middle. Xu Shengyan’s fifth daughter, Shuxun, was known as “pious to God” in the Jinjing Church. She served as president of the Mothers Association, the president of the Encouragement Association, and the president of the Evangelistic Association. She was a reliable person who could take the overall situation into consideration and was recognized as a spiritual and moral leader. She was a role model who enjoyed high prestige in the church and was highly respected and loved by her fellow church members.

From these we can see the weight and influence of the Xu Shengyan family in the Southern Fujian Church, churches over several areas of Nanyang, and in Southern Fujian Christian schools.

On September 25, 1948, Pastor Xu Shengyan ceased his earthly labors because of illness and entered heaven at the age of 83.

Yading Li

About the author, Li Yading: As a Senior Associate of the Global China Center, Dr. Li Yading currently serves as the executive director and editor-in-chief of the Chinese page of the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.

Translated by Google Translate and G. Wright Doyle


Wen, Fang Wen. “Xu Shengyan’s Family and Others.” Quanzhou Literary and Historical Materials Database. Published on August 16, 2016.

Pastor Xu Shengyan’s 100th Birthday Commemorative Issue. Quanzhou, 1965.

John. “The Glorious Testimony of Pastor Xu Shengyan.” The Christian Times. May 5, 2023.

Other related information on the Internet.

About the Author

Yading Li

Senior Associate, Global China Center; Chinese Editor, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.