Li was born in Laoting (a county of Tangshan), Hebei province to a peasant family. He began his high school education at Tangshan Number 1 High School in 1905. From 1913 to 1917 Li studied political economy at Waseda University in Japan before returning to China in 1918.
Librarian at Peking University
As a leading intellectual in the New Culture Movement, Li was recruited by Cai Yuanpei to head the library at Peking University. In this position he influenced a number of students in the May Fourth Movement, including Mao Zedong, who worked in the library's reading room. Li was among the first of the Chinese intellectuals to look to China's villages as a basis for a political movement and was among the earliest to explore the Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union as a possible model for China's reform. Even as late as 1921, however, he still maintained warm relations with other New Culture figures such as Hu Shi.
Co-founder of the CPC
By many accounts, Li was a nationalist and believed that the peasantry in China were to play an important role in China's revolution. As with many intellectuals of his time, the roots of Li's revolutionary thinking were actually mostly in Kropotkin's communist anarchism, but after the events of the May Fourth Movement and the failures of the anarchistic experiments of many intellectuals, like his compatriots, he turned more towards Marxism. Of course, the success of the Bolshevik Revolution was a major factor in the changing of his views. In later years, Li combined both his original nationalist and newly acquired Marxist views in order to contribute a strong political view to China (Meisner 1967, 178).
Li initiated the Peking Socialist Youth Corps in 1920 (Pringsheim 1962, p76), in advance of the first meeting of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Shanghai in July, 1921. Though Li was unable to attend, he was named co-founder of the CPC, along with Chen Duxiu.
Under the leadership of Li and Chen, the CPC developed a close relationship with the Soviet controlled Comintern. At the direction of the Comintern, Li and Chen were inducted into the Kuomintang in 1922. Li was elected to the KMT's Central Executive Committee in 1924.
Tensions between the Comintern, the KMT, and the CPC presented opportunities for political intrigue and opportunism. With the collapse of the United Front in 1927, Li was captured during a Fengtian ordered raid on the Soviet embassy in Peking (Beijing). Along with nineteen others arrested in the raid, he was executed by hanging on the orders of the warlord Zhang Zuolin on April 28, 1927.
- Murray, Stuart. The Library: An Illustrated History. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub, 2009.
- Maurice J. Meisner, Li Ta-Chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967).
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- Original text based on marxists.org article, released under the GNU FDL.
- Meisner, Maurice (1967). Li Ta-Chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Pringsheim, Klaus H. (Oct–Dec 1962). "The Functions of Chinese Communist Youth Leagues 1920–1949". The China Quarterly 12: 75–91.