Xu Lele was born in 1955 in Nanjing, Jiangsu. In 1973, she enrolled at Nanjing University of the Arts to study Chinese painting. After graduating in 1976, Xu lived in rural Jiangsu, where she created many artworks that drew on her experiences. In 1978, Xu became a professional painter at the Jiangsu Chinese Paintings Academy.
She is considered part of the New Scholar School, who are artists who sought to make the venerable Chinese literati painting tradition relevant in the modern period.