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Dai Li : biography

1897 - 1946

Lieutenant General Dai Li ( (May 28, 1897-March 17, 1946) was born Dai Chunfeng (Chinese: 戴春風) with the courtesy name of Yunong (Chinese: 雨農) in Baoan, Jiangshan, Zhejiang, China. He studied at the Whampoa Military Academy, where Chiang served as Chief Commandant, and later became head of Chiang's Military Intelligence Service.

Role in the KMT

As the Chief of the Kuomintang (KMT) Army secret service in China, Dai Li helped to develop China's modern intelligence organization in 1928, "Clandestine Investigation Section" directly under the Northern Expeditionary Army's Headquarters with the aims of an early victory of the war to quell the nationwide unrest and minimize the loss of life by making the most of military and political intelligence. By the end of the Second Sino-Japanese war, this small section would evolve to the very complex and controversial Investigation and Statistics Bureau of Chinese National Military Council, which is the predecessor of the Military Intelligence Bureau under the Chief of General Staff, ROC Ministry of National Defense in Taiwan.

The benign title of The Investigation and Statistics Bureau belied the true nature of its secret police work, making Dai one of the most powerful men in China, and earning him the nickname "the Himmler of China". Dai was also the head of the Blue Shirts Society, a fascist organization that did security and intelligence work for Chiang. In 1930s and 1940s, his agents from Military-Statistics Bureau were very successful at penetrating the Chinese Communist Party and Imperial Japanese puppet organizations.

Dai worked with the United States during World War II and was taught new methods of espionage, and his guerrilla force grew to 70,000 men. In return for this partnership, he made available maps of the South China coast, intelligence on Japanese maneuvers and a safe haven for downed Allied aircrew. After the signing of the SACO Treaty in 1942, Dai was placed as head of Sino-American intelligence activities.

While he avoided public entertainments and remained a mysterious figure to his countrymen, Dai was privately known for his wild drinking parties.


He died in a plane crash on March 17, 1946, possibly arranged by Dai's counterpart and rival in the Communist Party of China (CPC), the notorious CPC security and intelligence chief Kang Sheng, although there are rumours it was arranged by the American Office of Strategic Services, because it happened aboard an American plane.

Popular culture

  • In the Nickelodeon animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Dai Li is the intelligence service and secret police of the Earth Kingdom capital city.

Early life

At age four, his father died and his mother was left to raise him by herself. By age six, Dai was enrolled in a private academy to begin studying the Chinese Classics, and later graduated valedictorian at the high school level Wenxi County Elementary School. His family could not afford to send him into university, so the 16-year-old Dai Chunfeng was forced to leave home and find his own way in the world. Without a secure income nor any guidance, he spent much of his time gambling and living rough in the streets of Shanghai. Dai Chunfeng was a gambler, and was a skilled one. He can often be found languishing in Shanghai's many casinos gambling and attempting to make ends meet off his winnings. It was in a Shanghai casino that he met the Criminal Boss Du Yuesheng, head of the Green Gang. It was through Du Yuesheng that he met Chiang Kai-shek. It in unclear when Chiang and Dai's first meeting took place but it is likely to be around 1921 when Dai was 24 and Chiang was 34. He later lost all of his money and was forced to return home to Baoan. In 1927 aged 30, Dai met his elementary school friend Mao Renfeng who suggested to him to enrol in the Whampoa Military Academy in Guangzhou. On hearing Chiang was the Superintendent-Commandant of the Academy, Dai took up the suggestion and got himself a letter of recommendation From Du Yuesheng and set off for Guangzhou. Dai enlisted in the 1st Student Regiment of the sixth class of The Nationalist Party of Chinese Army Officer Academy, also commonly known as the Whampoa Military Academy in early modern China. It was then that he changed his name to Dai Li (Chinese: 戴笠) which in Chinese refers to an assassin's hooded veil, reflecting the clandestine nature of his future career. Chiang soon made him a student informant within the academy to spy on Communist activities where he played an instrumental role in the Zhongshan Warship Incident.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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