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Flashback: Real Estate Freeing Slaves in the 1930s

Mr. Xu Chuncao (1874–1960) used his real estate profits to free slave girls from wealthy families in the beautiful city of Xiamen, China.

“Increase our bid by ¥80,000,” ordered Mr. Xu (pronounced “shoe”), owner of one of the largest construction companies on the picturesque island of Gulangyu in southern China. “But Boss,” his deputy protested, “the Dutch client is going to award the project to the lowest bidder, not the highest. How can we ever win this project?”

But after spending the morning in prayer on the peak overlooking the harbor dotted with sailing junks and fishing boats, Mr. Xu was confident they were going to win the project even if he raised his bid. “Don’t worry, just increase our bid by ¥80,000. Those extra profits will go to fund the Asylum,” Mr. Xu instructed. Sure enough, the Dutch awarded the project to Xu even though he wasn’t the lowest bidder, because his was the only construction company with a solid reputation for integrity.

Xu had promised himself at a young age, upon witnessing grotesque cruelty to these slave girls at the hands of their aristocratic masters, that if he ever had the power, he would devote himself to helping these innocent girls.

This drawing published in 1931, shows the owner of a slave girl, seemingly in respectable attire, abusing his young servant.

And now, as the founder and President of his large construction company, his time had come. So in January 1930, he delivered an inspiring speech in the town square asking his audience about Christ’s love. “Who are we to love? Who needs our love the most?” And he went on to establish the Asylum for the Relief of Chinese Slave Girls to live out that love in their community.

In his characteristic bowtie, Mr. Xu is pictured here with many of the young slave girls rescued by his Asylum.

Wealthy and influential Mr. Xu and his wife several times made themselves nearly bankrupt funding the activities of the Asylum, which rescued over 300 young girls from slavery and abuse.l estate, integrity, and purpose were core principles in Xu’s life. May his legend live on in the work of Freedom Place, where our mission is to eradicate modern slavery through innovative real estate solutions that generate significant funding and build public awareness.


White, Chris. “To Rescue the Wretched Ones” Twentieth Century China, Issue 39, January 2014.

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