Coverage: Henan, Sichuan, Yunnan, Fujian, Putian, Jinjiang, Taiwan
Li, the surname with the largest population, takes up 7.9% of the population in China according to the census. With huge amount of members, the Li clan has numerous and complicated branches. Although belonging to different ramifications, most of the Li families of the nation are from Longxi, scattered all over the country in the complex migration process. However, with few exceptions, Hakka people surnamed Li originated in the Shibi Village, Ninghua County, Fujian Province, with Li Huode as their ancestor.
Abundant materials can be found as to the origin of Li families. There are no exact records on the anterior clan of Li families before they took Li as the surname and the present proofs are generally based on folk stories, causing a variety of opinions or even mistakes. One thing which is certain is that the great ancestor of Li families is Gaotao, as shown by lots of books and pedigrees. Gaotao, also named Jiuyao, was the leader of the tribe of Dongyi. Gaotao was bestowed the surname of Yan by Emperor Yu since the place where he and his tribe lived was Yandi (Qufu City, Shandong Province). Gaotao was famous as a liguan (“li” means to “manage”, “guan” means “official”), a position in charge of the law and the punishment, in ages of Emperor Tangyao and Emperor Yushun. His descendants had served at the same official position for 20 generations, covering the ages of the Emperor Yu, Xia and Shang Dynasties. Since the ancient Chinese had a custom of taking the official positions as surnames, the descendants of Gaotao got the surname of Li.
Towards the end of the Shang Dynasty, Li Zheng, a descendant of Gaotao, was ordered to commit suicide for his bold expostulation by Emperor Zhou. His wife, surnamed Qihe, fled with her child Li Zhen to Yihou of Kuxian County (now the Luyi County, Henan Province). Being thirsty and hungry, she picked some plums (a kind of fruit called Lizi in Chinese) from a tree. To escape the arrest of Emperor Zhou, an idea appeared in her mind. Then she changed the surname of Li which means “to manage” to another Li which means “plum”, quite different in Chinese though same in pronunciation. According to this story, the surname of Li nowadays started between the end of the Shang and the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty. Among the various versions of the origin of surname Li, this is the most popular.
Laozi: The Great Philosopher
As a famous ancient thinker and philosopher, the creator of Taoism, Laozi, surnamed Li, named Er, and also called Li Dan, with an academic name of Boyang, was born in Luyi County in the period between late Spring and early Autumn. Once appointed as the official in charge of the history books of the Zhou Dynasty, he was very knowledgeable. In his seventies, China was in a chaos of wars for land and power among seigneurs. Laozi resigned to lead a peaceful life of reclusion in his later years. When he arrived at Hangu Pass on his journey riding an ox, the general guarding the pass invited him to write something before he went on with his journey. Laozi wrote an essay in 5,000 words named Laozi, also called Daodejing.
Daodejing has two parts, the first on dao and the second on de, in which Laozi summarily presented his opinions on philosophy and politics. According to his philosophy, everything else in the world was derived from “dao”, which was the origin of the world.
With the principle of “Dao rules the nature”, Laozi presented his political propositions of ruling the country. He believed that all evils and wars were aroused by selfish desires. He suggested a policy of “quietness” and “inaction”, hoping all the people can treat everything naturally based on the function of “dao”, without disturbing the proper running of “dao” with selfish desires or wishes. Daodejing contained ideas of dialectics including “a strong army calls for perdition, a tree of overgrowth begets break” and “misfortune is where fortune lies and vice versa”, showing his awareness of the laws on the mutual transformation of the two parties of contradictions and that things will develop in the opposite direction when they become extreme.
Li Shangyin: the talented poet
Li Shangyin, with the academic name of Yishan, born in Xinzheng County in 813 A.D., lived in Henei (now Qinyang County of Henan Province) of Huaizhou in the Tang Dynasty and died of illness in poverty in 858 A.D. when he was only 46 years old. As a great and talented out of the thousands of poets in the Tang Dynasty, Li Shangyin was highly commented even in his age.
More than 600 poems can be found today, collected in Yuxisheng Poerty Anthology and Fannan Anthology. Poems of Li Shangyin were ranked in the first class in Tang poems, judging by both the quality and the quantity. Absorbing the essences of other schools, poems of Li Shangyin were unique in style, with clear, rhyming, euphemistic and beautiful sentences, being considered classics in the Chinese literature. His poems fall into three categories namely poems on himself, poems on history, and poems on love.
Rich in political significations, Li Shangyin’s poems on himself revealed and reflected the society then, presenting his realism. A Long poem at West Suburb, the most famous one, revealed the great disaster of the people and the nation, caused by separatist regimes, by wars among the military powers and by political corruptions.
Li Shangyin’s poems on history are expostulations to the society with contents describing the past. His poems on love, the most significant ones that can manifest his style of writing, are represented by a remarkable one named “Without a Title”. Famous sentences like “without wings of a colorful phoenix to make us fly together, we’ve got close hearts of privy, however”; “a silkworm won’t stop spinning till its death, a candle won’t stop sobbing till its ends”; “do not exuberate your love like blossoms, don’t you know, how much pain it will cause with lovesickness” show the versatility of Li Shangyin as a great poet covering many poetic fields.
Li Si: the one who helped the King of Qin to unite China
Li Si, born in Shangcai of Kingdom Chu (now Shangcai County of Henan Province), was a statesman of Qin with great fame and achievements in Chinese history. He learned a lot about how to rule a county from Xunzi, a famous talent, when he was young. After completing his study, he analyzed the situation then and found that the Chu Kingdom was nothing of prospect while all the other kingdoms were rather weak except Qin, an ambitious kingdom capable of uniting China in the future. So he decided to go to Qin for development.
In 247 B.C., Lisi came to Qin where he was accepted as a menke (a private consultant) of Prime Minister Lv Buwei, who later recommended him to be a guard of King Yingzheng (Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty) out of trust. Seizing the opportunity of getting close to the king, he presented him a letter named On Unification, in which he advised the king to grasp the precious opportunity to conquer all the other kingdoms to unify China and be the emperor. Accepting his opinions with delight, King of Qin gave him more and more power and asked him to work out the strategy and arrangement for unifying China.
With his outstanding political talent and foresight, he helped the king conquer all the other six kingdoms in only ten years by carrying out his strategies. In 221 B.C., the first unified feudalist empire in the history of China was established. China was unified for the first time, which indicated a huge achievement. After the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, Lisi was appointed Prime Minister. He continued to assist Emperor Qin Shihuang (literally the “First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty”) in solidifying the power, keeping the unity of the nation and accelerating the economic and cultural development. For his suggestion, Emperor Qin Shihuang abolished the system of enfiefment which had caused separatist regimes and wars, replacing it with system of prefectures and counties. Lisi also made great efforts in standardizing the law, the money, and the metrology as well as in other aspects, contributing a lot.
Lihe: the poem wizard
Lihe, with an academic name of Changji, was born in an aristocrat family in Fuchang (now Yiyang of Henan Province) in 790 A.D. Smart and diligent, he was capable of writing poems when he was only seven years old.
Lihe went to Chang’an, the capital, to attend an examination for official posts when he was 20 years old. However, he was rejected since the name of the examination was of the same pronunciation with his father’s name, which was considered an offence to his father in ancient China. For his great reputation in literature, he was appointed a humble official later, serving in the capital. During this period, his poetic talent was widely recognized and aristocrats strived to invite him to dinners and asked him to make poems for enjoyment. However, none of them helped him to realize his political ambitions. Being always ambitious and proud, Lihe felt rather humiliated in such a tiny position. So he quit it with an excuse of illness and returned to his hometown of Fuchang for reclusion.
At his hometown, he absorbed himself in creating poems. Riding a crippled donkey, with a worn silk bag on his back, he roamed about for inspiration. His poems were rich in imagination, often using mythologies to present things at present. Therefore, people of later generations called him “poem wizard” and his poems “spells of a wizard”.
In long-term depression and sadness with burning anxiety for poems besides the threatening of poverty, this new star of extraordinary splendor in the sky of poems in the Tang Dynasty fell in 816 A.D. at an early age of 27. However, his poems are still spreading from lips to lips for generations from the ancient days to the present, such as “under the overhanging ponderous dark clouds, the whole city tends to collapse”, “the whole world is suddenly under the sun with one crow of the rooster”, “the sky will grow old if it is sentimental too”, making him a beautiful flower of miracle in the garden of Tang poems.
Li Jie: the ancient architect
Lijie, the great architect of ancient China, with an academic name of “Mingzhong”, was born in Zhengzhou in a family of high officials. His father served as an official for 60 years while his elder brother taking up important positions in Northern Song Dynasty. With such a family background, he was eager to learn when he was quite young, thus being versatile. Keeping tens of thousands of books including a few decades of hand-written ones, he made great effort in calligraphy and was good at drawing. He also served the court at a high position. In 1100 A.D., he accomplished his book of Construction Methods and Styles, an epoch-making masterpiece of architecture. Lijie also presided over constructions of lots of famous buildings, including the Wuhou Mansion built in 1099 A.D., the Biyong Palace built in 1102 A.D., later the Longde Palace, the Dihua Chamber, the Zhuque Gate, the Jiucheng Hall, the Government Office of Kaifeng, the Mingtang Hall, etc. He died of illness in 1110 A.D. when he was serving as the local master of Guozhou.
Being learned and knowledgeable, Lijie also wrote many books on topics beyond architecture, covering geography, literature, surname study, horse study and so on. His calligraphy and drawings were highly praised by the Huizong Emperor of Northern Song Dynasty, who was also an expert in this field.