Feng Xiuyuan, also known as Yushu, was a native of Suzhou in Anhui. From childhood she was very intelligent; at age 9 she enrolled at a girl’s school established by Mrs. Zhang, the third wife of a wealthy man in the city; later Feng Xiuyuan transferred to the Qixiu Girls’ School established by the church. Qixiu Girls’ School was founded in 1909 by Mr. and Mrs. Judd of the American Northern Presbyterian Mission. Pearl Buck, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was a teacher at this school; her husband John L. Buck, the famed economist and author of “The Buck Journal,” worked part-time at the American boys’ school. Feng Xiuyuan’s clever mind and outstanding eloquence resulted in her fame as one of the “Three Heroines” of Qixiu Girls’ School.
In 1921, Feng Xiuyuan graduated from Qixiu Girls’ Secondary School and entered Nanjing Chinese Women’s Theological Seminary to advance her studies. After graduating she taught at her alma mater, Qixiu Girls’ Secondary School, becoming the principal after 1926. Among the exceptional students who attended Qixiu Girls’ School were such people as Li Zhao (originally named Li Shuxiu), the wife of Hu Yaobang; Sheng Peixin, who after graduating from Beijing Furen University taught English at Xuzhou Peizhen Secondary School, Hangzhou Chinese Theological Seminary and elsewhere; Huang Xiwan, a who graduated from Jiangsu Medical School and worked as an ophthalmologist at Nanjing Gulou Hospital; Ding Wenxiang, a nationally-recognized pediatrician (graduate of Shanghai Zhendan University Medical School, and director of Shanghai Xinhua Hospital and Renci Hospital); and Dr. Jin Shunzhen, director of the internal medicine department of the Nanjing Jiangsu Provincial Cancer Hospital, among others too numerous to name.
Feng Xiuyuan handled matters decisively, with sincerity of conduct, wisdom, industriousness, thrift, and austerity, earning her a very good reputation in Suzhou as a “Heroine of Suzhou City.” She was also an able assistant to the church pastor, serving the church with such devotion, humility and obedience, that she was well-known by churches throughout Anhui, and even in Shanghai and Nanjing. On the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, she married Pastor Li Chenzhong, the eldest son of Li Qiushan of Shouguang County in Shandong Province. Pastor Li Chenzhong was an early graduate of the Changsha Bible School in Hunan Province, and was an influential person in the Suzhou church and a social activist, who later settled in Nanjing and taught secondary school English.
After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Nationalist Party head for Su County planned to take over the property of the Qixiu Girls’ School and turn it into a state-run girls’ secondary school. Feng Xiuyuan rushed to Nanjing upon hearing this news, and in the name of the church convinced the American consulate to discuss the matter with the Nationalist central government, which later asked the Anhui provincial education department to order the Su County government to give the school’s land to the church. For this, Feng Xiuyuan was known among the people of Suzhou as Anhui’s “Wu Yifang” (Wu was the head of Nanjing’s Jinling Women’s University, and the first female president of a university in China).
Madam Feng Xiuyuan served as principal of Qixiu Girls’ School for twenty years, and in the early years after the establishment of the new China, she actively promoted the new democratic education, which made an enduring contribution to the development of education in Suzhou.
From the end of 1945 to 1951, Feng Xiuyuan also served as the director of the church’s Min’ai Hospital. In 1955, she became assistant principal at Si County Secondary School. In 1958 she retired and went to live in Nanjing. In 1977 she died of illness at the age of 75.