Li Tao (李燾) (1115–1184), courtesy name Renfu (仁甫 or 仁父) or Zizhen (子真), art name Xunyan (巽巌), was a Southern Song Dynasty historian and scholar-official who devoted four decades of his life compiling the Xu Zizhi Tongjian Changbian, a monumental reference book chronicling the history of the Northern Song Dynasty from 960 until 1126.
Li Tao was a direct descendant of Li Si (李偲), Emperor Taizong of Tang's grandson who narrowly escaped death from the persecution of Empress Wu Zetian to settle in Meizhou (眉州, today's Meishan, Sichuan) in the 8th century. Li Tao's father Li Zhong (李中), a 15th-generation descendant of Li Si, passed the imperial examination in Song Dynasty in 1109 and was well known for his knowledge in history and the classics.
Li Tao read widely from a young age, not only Confucian classics but also history, medicine, agriculture, cosmology and religion. A believer of I Ching, he made a conscientious effort to modify his behavior and learning to its teachings. But his greatest passion was in the field of history: he devoted himself in the learning of The Spring and Autumn Annals, looked up to Sima Guang and strongly believed that history should be written as a guide for Confucian ethics. He passed in 1132 the local examination in Meizhou, and 6 years later the imperial examination. In between, he wrote 2 historical essays "The Mirror of Both Han Dynasties" (兩漢鑑) and "The Discussion about the Restoration of Righteousness" (反正議), focusing on the morality lessons of his historical subjects.
Having passed the imperial examination in 1138, he was appointed subprefectural registrar (主簿) of Huayang (華陽; in modern Shuangliu County, Sichuan), but he with permission postponed the appointment to pursue further studies at home. When he finally assumed office in 1142, chancellor Qin Hui who had heard of Li's name wanted him in the imperial government, but Li rejected the offer on the grounds that their views differ. This directly prevented him entering the central bureaucracy for the next 20 years.
At the local post, he spent considerable energy collecting and arranging historical sources. He went home to mourn his father in 1147 and became the prefectural judge (推官) of Yazhou (雅州; modern Ya'an, Sichuan) 3 years later. This was when he started working on Xu Zizhi Tongjian Changbian, an annual intended to follow Sima Guang's monumental historiographical work Zizhi Tongjian. In 1159, he published an article entitled "Ten Comments on Li Yue and Others" (李悅等十事) which denounced Qin Hui and Cai Jing. A year after he was appointed administrator (知州) of Rongzhou (榮州; modern Rong County, Sichuan). in 1162, he finished the first 17 chapters of Xu Zizhi Tongjian Changbian.
In 1167 he was appointed assistant official (員外郎) in the Ministry of War (兵部) and went to the capital. He was concurrently appointed official of the Bureau of Compilator of the Reign History (國史院編修官), as his unfinished book was included in the imperial library. In 1168, he presented his unfinished book, now covering Song history from 960 to 1067, to Emperor Gaozong of Song. 1170, he was made the investigator (檢討官) of the newly established Bureau of Compilation of Veritable Records (實錄院).
Temporarily forced to leave the central government, he was summoned back and restored of his ranks and titles. Later, chancellor Yu Yunwen feared Li's opposition to his plans to attack the Jin dynasty, and appointed Li to military intendant of Tongchuan (潼川; in modern Sichuan) and administrator (知州) of Luzhou. He did not come back to the central government for the third time until 1176.