Li Tsung-jen (1891-1969)

Photograph of Li Tsung-jen (Li Zhongren)
Wikipedia Commons

Li Tsung-jen (Li Zongren) was one of the most competent Chinese generals and a sometimes member of Chiang Kai-shek's inner circle. He received a classical education  before attending Cotton Weaving Institute and Kwangsi Military Academy. When the Kwangsi army disintegrated in the anarchy of 1921, he led a guerrilla band  that fought against the Canton warlord. He joined the Kuomintang in 1925,  was one of the original instructors at the Whampoa Academy under Chiang, and led the Kwangsi 7 Army in the Northern Expedition of 1926, where Chiang first asserted the power of the Kuomintang forces. Li sided with the anticommunists in the 1927 split but subsequently became a rival to Chiang. Defeated and forced to leave the country in 1929, he returned to Kwangsi in 1930 and organized a progressive and efficient autonomous provincial government.

In May 1936, Li joined Pai Ch'ung-hsi and the Cantonese warlord, Ch'en Chi-tang, in criticizing Chiang for not resisting Japan more forcefully. The three also called for an expedition against the Japanese in north China. The Kuomintang responded by expelling Ch'en Chi-tang while confirming the Kwangsi leaders in their positions, thereby isolating Ch'en and linking Li and Pai more closely to the central government.  The proposal for an expedition was dropped.

Li rejoined the Kuomintang to fight the common enemy after the Japanese invasion in 1937, accepting command of 5 War Area on 28 August 1937 and overseeing the victory at Taierzhuang in late 1938. Li then directed the successful Chinese withdrawal from Hsuchow, but was so depressed afterwards ("haunted by the ghosts of those lost" according to MacKinnon 2008) that he was briefly hospitalized.  Li was never quite the same afterwards, but he nevertheless continued to hold high commands for the remainder of the war. At one point, the U.S. Cabinet discussed supporting a coup d'etat to replace Chiang with Li, but a narrow majority favored continuing to back Chiang.

Li's efforts to quickly reoccupy formerly Japanese-controlled areas after the surrender were mistrusted by Chiang, who airlifted in his own troops and removed Li from military command in 1947. Li made unsuccessful peace overtures towards the Communists in April 1949, then traveled to the United States for medical care. He remained in the U.S. until 1965, when he returned to mainland China as a hero.

Historian Eugene Levich described Li as "aggressive, ambitious, intelligent, nationalistic, puritanical, efficient, honest, daring and innovative." Li agreed to fight under Chiang against the Japanese only if Chiang agreed to not interfere with Li's command of his forces by sending orders directly to Li's subordinates. On the two occasions in which Chiang tried to intervene in the Taierzhuang campaign, Li pretended he could not understand Chiang's regional accent over the phone.

Service record



Military governor of Kwangsi province
Lieutenant general     
Army commander, Northern Expedition

Commander, 7 Army

Commander, 3 Army

Commander, 4 Army Group
Commander, 5 War Area

Director, Generalissimo's Headquarters

Director, Peiping Field Headquarters

Vice-President of China

President of China

Defects to the People's Republic of China



Dupuy et al. (1992)

Fenby (2003) (accessed 2008-2-1)
Hsiung and Levine (1992)

MacKinnon (2008)

Mitter (2013)

Peattie et al. (2011)

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