1885  — 1986

Zhu Youyu

Y. Y. Tsu

Educator, chaplain, church leader

Zhu Youyu was born in Shanghai in 1885. Both his mother and father had become Christians after attending schools in Shanghai run by the American Episcopal Church Mission. Zhu was one of the first four graduates to earn a bachelor’s degree at St. John’s University in Shanghai in 1907. After graduation he was appointed as a deacon to help found a new mission in Wuxi, Jiangsu province.

After two years, he went to the United States, where he earned a PhD in social sciences from Columbia University and a BD from General Theological Seminary in New York in the same year, 1912. Zhu’s PhD dissertation examined the nature of Chinese philanthropy, foreshadowing his activism in helping war refugees.

He later wrote that the best thing that happened during his American sojourn was the opportunity to get acquainted with the Reverend Xu Qin (Huie Kin), for from that family came his future wife. Zhu and Caroline Xu first met in New York and renewed their friendship in China when she came with Alice to work with the YWCA in Shanghai in 1919.

Zhu was teaching sociology and serving as assistant chaplain at St. John’s University. After returning to the United States in 1920 for graduate study at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, he also worked as a traveling secretary for the Chinese Students’ Christian Association. Soon aAfter 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 returned from abroad with his new wife, he became the director for the department of religious work at the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) from 1924 to 1933. He served as chaplain, leading the college’s Sunday service, counseling the students and hospital patients, and overseeing recreational activities. Because he was an excellent preacher in both English and Chinese, many people outside of the PUMC community attended the Sunday services. 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. Zhu worked as the Chinese executive secretary of the Red Cross, under prominent statesman Yan Huiqing, who reorganized and expanded the organization to aid the thousands of war refugees.

Moved by the terrible suffering of the sick and wounded, Zhu launched the Shanghai Medical Relief Committee with a prominent Chinese Christian businessman. He asked doctors and nurses in Shanghai to volunteer to serve in medical units. The first of these (two or three doctors and half a dozen or more nurses) were sent out in the spring of 1939 to care for refugees and wounded soldiers fleeing to the unoccupied areas.

In 1940, Zhu received a call to become the first Episcopal bishop over a new diocese, the two southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou. Though the diocese had only a small mission outpost consisting of a hospital and two churches in Kunming, the location was growing in importance because thousands of people had fled from the coast to the southwest. 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.

The Zhu household extended hospitality to American soldiers and pilots stationed near Kunming. They held evensong in English for the soldiers on Sundays, with a social hour afterwards.

Bishop Zhu needed more ordained workers to open new missions south from Kunming along the Burma Road. With the support of a Chinese businessman, seven ordained Chinese pastors, several Western missionaries, and numerous lay volunteers were working in the area by the end of the first year. Zhu’s friends began calling him the “Bishop of the Burma Road.”

By the middle of 1942, the country was divided into occupied China along the eastern seaboard and free China in the western interior. As executive representative for the House of Bishops, Zhu journeyed by land to Shanghai, dressed as a peasant, to gather information about the church in occupied territory. Though he hoped to bring back his seventeen year old son, who was at St. John’s, and his thirteen year old daughter, who was studying at St. Mary’s Hall, the children had difficulty crossing enemy lines and returned to Shanghai. On his way back to Kunming Zhu became ill with a high fever and stayed at the Yale-in-China hospital in Changsha for a month. He finally made it home by Easter, 1943, four months later than he had promised his wife.

In the middle of 1943, President Chiang Kai-shek asked for a team of scholars and educators to go to the United States to speak on behalf of China to sustain American support. The group included Zhu and two of his brothers-in-law, Yan Yangchu of the Mass Education Movement and Gui Zhitang of Wuhan University. 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.

In January 1945, the U. S. Army Headquarters in China asked Zhu to serve as a civilian chaplain for personnel along the Burma Road. After the war was over, a new church was built in Kunming named Allied Memorial Church to honor the soldiers who had died in China from 1937-45.

Much work needed to be done in China in the chaotic post-war period, with huge numbers of people returning to the coastal cities amidst continuing civil strife. As newly appointed general secretary for the Episcopal Church’s national office in Nanjing, Zhu negotiated the return and repair of church property that had been seized by the Japanese and began publishing the church’s national magazine, which was seen as symbolic of the restored unity of the church. In January 1947, Caroline joined him, while the four children stayed in the United States.

Zhu went to the denomination’s Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England, in 1948 where he spoke as one of the representatives of the churches of East Asia. He also attended the Amsterdam Assembly in August, 1948, where the World Council of Churches was created. When he returned to Nanjing in November, he found that many people were fleeing China due to the civil war. After Christmas, he gave away most of the family’s belongings, loaded up a jeep and drove to Shanghai. He was in Shanghai when the Communist forces entered the city on May 24, 1949.

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 the council meeting he was able to spend a month with the whole family in Wilmington, Delaware while filling in for a pastor on vacation. At the end of August, he traveled to California with his daughter, who was entering Scripps College in Claremont, and then flew on to Hong Kong and to Shanghai.

In a very brief visit that December, he took part in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the mission where he had started his ministry in 1907. He then boarded a ship bound for the United States, and several days later, on his sixty-fifth birthday, he gave his retirement notice.

Zhu Youyu died in 1986 at the age of one hundred in Delaware, Pennsylvania. Both and his wife 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