1897  — 1970

Caroline Xu

Xu Lingyu

Dean of Women at St. John's University; chairman of the Red Cross committee that sponsored a maternity center for refugee women; chairman of the YWCA National Board headquartered in Shanghai from 1938-39.

Caroline (Xu Lingyu) was born on May 27, 1897, the third daughter of Xu Qin (Huie Kin), pastor of the Chinese Presbyterian Church of New York City’s Chinatown, and Louise Van Arnam. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University and married Zhu Youyu (Y. Y. Tsu), who earned a Ph.D. in social sciences from Columbia University and a BD from General Theological Seminary in New York in the same year, 1912.

Zhu and Caroline first met in New York and renewed their friendship in China when she came with her sister, Alice, to work with the YWCA in Shanghai in 1919. Zhu was teaching sociology and serving as assistant chaplain at St. John’s University. He returned to the United States in 1920 for graduate study at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.
After attending a student conference together in Indianapolis, Indiana in the winter of 1923, Caroline and Zhu became engaged and were married in New York on February 2, 1924.

When Zhu and Caroline returned to China, he became the director for the department of religious work at the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) from 1924 to 1933. All four of the Zhu children (three boys and one girl) were born in Beijing.

In 1935 Zhu rejoined the faculty at St. John’s as head of the department of sociology. That fall, when the University admitted girl students for the first time, Caroline was asked to become Dean of Women.

When the Japanese army attacked Shanghai in November 1937, and St. John’s operations were moved inside the neutral International Settlement for safety, the Zhu family had to abandon their home. Caroline was chairman of the Red Cross committee that sponsored a maternity center for refugee women. Caroline Zhu was chairman of the YWCA National Board headquartered in Shanghai from 1938-39.

In 1940 Zhu received a call to become the first Episcopal bishop over a new diocese, the two southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou. After Zhu prepared a small home, Mrs. Zhu and the two younger boys came by train while the two older children stayed in school in Shanghai. Caroline later wrote that life in the hinterland was strenuous but the challenges were exciting. After mapping out different sections of the city, the couple rode their bikes around on Saturday mornings calling on parishioners. The Zhu household extended hospitality to American soldiers and pilots stationed near Kunming. After communion on Sundays, Mrs. Zhu served them waffles before they headed back to their bases some distance from the city. They held Evensong in English for the soldiers on Sundays, with a social hour afterwards. The soldiers began to call Mrs. Zhu “Kunming Mother.”

In the middle of 1943 President Chiang Kai-shek asked a team of scholars and educators, including Zhu go to the United States to speak on behalf of China. Later Caroline and the children also traveled to the United States, going west from Kunming to Calcutta and then from Bombay to Boston. At last, the family was reunited. That fall their oldest son entered Yale University while the other children were enrolled in local schools.

During the post-war period Zhu was appointed as general secretary for the Episcopal church’s national office in Nanjing. In January 1947, Caroline joined him while the four children stayed in the United States.

In July 1950, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches was to hold its semi-annual session in Toronto, Canada. Zhu came early to attend two of the children’s graduation ceremonies with Caroline. After Zhu gave his retirement notice, they lived in the United States. Caroline Xu Zhu died in 1970 in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Both she and Zhu Youyu are buried in the Xu family plot in New York.


  • Andrew Yu-Yue Tsu, Friend of Fishermen (Ambler, PA: Trinity Press, 1966)

About the Author

Stacey Bieler

Research Associate, Global China Center, Michigan, USA