Party affiliation: Kuomintang
Li received a military education in Guangdong and then attended the famous Guangxi Military Academy in Guilin. Classmates included Bai Chongxi and Huang Shaohong. Together these three would become the key members of the Guangxi clique. Li also joined the Tongmeng hui (Chinese United League) as a student and participated in the 1911 revolution.
His military career began in 1916 as an officer under the overall command of Lu Rongting. Wounded twice in Guangdong and Hunan, Li was promoted to battalion commander in 1918. After the defeat in 1921 of Lu's army by the Guangdong army, he led 1,000 men into the mountains of Guangxi and began to build up an independent force. Eventually Huang Shaohong and Bai Chongxi joined him at his base camp in Yulin. By 1924 he and his army had become major contenders for power in Guangxi. By allying with one of the other pretenders, Shen Hong-ying, Li managed to occupy Nanning and soon thereafter took Guilin. He proclaimed himself “rehabilitation commissioner” of the province and was recognized by the newly reconstituted Guomindang as commander of the first Guangxi army, so that all of the province was under his control. In concert with Huang Shaohung and Bai Chongxi and the troops under their command, the Guangxi clique was duly formed. The clique and its troops were critical participants in the Northern Expedition of 1925-1927. They also played a pivotal role in supporting Jiang Jieshi in the handling of the Left Guomindang at Wuhan and Shanghai in 1927. The outcome left Li in control of Hunan and Hubei provinces (as well as Guangxi) and a member of the Military Affairs Commission at Nanjing. At a personal level, however, Li felt betrayed by Jiang Jieshi and the two men never again trusted one another.
The years 1928-1931 were critical of the political and military maneuver for Li Zongren and the Guangxi clique. For a while in 1929 their power extended from Guangxi to Hobei in north China. Inevitably, this brought the conflict with Jiang Jieshi out into the open. Their fortunes reversed in Guomindang backroom politics and Li and Bai were expelled from the Party in March 1929. After regrouping with Huang in Hong Kong, the three generals reestablished themselves as an independent force and the government of Guangxi. By 1932 a sort of modus vivendi with Jiang Jieshi was worked out in which the generals5 authority over Guangxi was recognized as part of a new Nationalist political framework. From 1932 to 1937 Li5s and Bai5s reform government in Guangxi was considered a national model in the fields of industry, education, and law and order. Emphasis was put on the three seifs: self-government, self-defense, and self-sufficiency as slogans of the regime.
The next major phase in Li Zongren's career began with the formal dec-laration of the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937. Li was soon appointed commander of the fifth war zone, covering northern Jiangsu, northern An-hui, and southern Shandong. Under Bai ChongxiJs tactical guidance, Li's Guangxi units scored the only major ground victory by Chinese troops of the war at Tairichuang，a walled town to the northeast of Li’s headquarters at Xuzhou. The Japanese retreated and eventually laid seige to Xuzhou itself. An immense battle ensued, one of the most costly and largest of the war. The Japanese eventually prevailed but not without significant losses. Xuzhou and the blowing up of the dykes on the Yellow River in southern Henan slowed down the Japanese enough to delay significantly the battle and seige of Wuhan during the fall of 1938. Li's leadership at Tairichuang and Xuzhou made him a national hero in everybody but Jiang Jieshi's eyes. The two men hated each other.
After the fall of Wuhan，Li’s leadership helped to prevent the Japanese from advancing further West. A stalemate on the ground remained in place until the Ichigo offensive of 1944. In the meantime Li returned to Guangxi but retained leadership of the fifth war zone until the end of the war. After 1945, with breaking out of civil war, Li moved to Beiping as head of gov-ernment for the region. In 1948 Li challenged Jiang Jieshi openly by running for the vice-presidency of the Nationalist government against Sun Ke-Jiang’s candidate. Thus, after further losses on the battlefield，when Jiang retired from the presidency in January 1949, Li assumed the presidency. At first he proposed to defend China south of the Yangzi and then he negotiated with Zhou Enlai in March refusing a position as vice-chairman in a new coalition government. After the Communists moved south in April, Li resigned and returned to Guangxi, fed up with battling both Jiang and the Communists. Eventually Li used his poor health as an excuse to avoid defense of Guangdong or Guangxi for that matter. He and his family left for the United States in December 1949. In 1954 he was impeached as president of the Republic of China and was replaced formally by Jiang Jieshi. Li remained quietly in the United States dictating his memoirs until 1965 when he returned to China with much fanfare and a warm reception. Eclipsed by the Cultural Revolution (his wife died in 1966), Li lived quietly in Beijing until he died in 1969.
- In short, Li Zongren was a master warlord politician who was a better organizer and publicist than military strategist. His warm, outgoing personality made him popular with his troops and officers. Quite a contrast with his alter ego, Bai Chongxi, who was a brilliant strategist. It was Li charisma as a leader that made him one of the most significant figures of Republican China and an effective bete noir to Jiang Jieshi.
During the course of his career Li gained a reputation as an ardent militarist and confirmed anti-intellectual, but with a rugged sense of integrity. He was known for disliking music. Like many Chinese leaders in the 1930s, Li was once an admirer of European Fascism, seeing it as a solution to the problems of a once proud nation humbled by internal dissension and external weakness. His ethical attitudes were self-consciously drawn from Confucianism. After his falling out with Chiang Kai-shek in 1929, Li often expressed himself in terms of frustrated patriotism. Li was an admirer of the British historian Edward Gibbon (1737–94) and his monumental historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Li and his close staff member, the Muslim General Bai Chongxi, were powerful partners in politics and military affairs. They were once given the nickname Li Bai, after the famous poet.
- Li was married to Li Xiuwen at 20 in an arranged marriage, but they separated soon afterwards. Li Zongren and Li Xiuwen had a son, Li Youlin. In 1924, Li married Guo Dejie, who died of breast cancer soon after returning with Li to Beijing. Li and Guo had one son: Li Zhisheng. Li then remarried, to Hu Yousong, who was 48 years younger than Li, and the daughter of actress Hu Die. Hu changed her name to Wang Xi after Li died, and remarried.