Dai Li file photo [23145]

Dai Li

Given NameLi
Born28 May 1897
Died17 Mar 1946


ww2dbaseDai Chunfeng was born in the village of Baoan, Jiangshan County, Zhejiang Province, Qing Dynasty China in 1897 to a businessman father and a seamstress mother. His father passed away in 1901 when Dai was only four years old. He completed elementary school in 1913. In 1915, he married Mao Xiucong and they would have one song, Dai Shanwu; Mao would pass away from uterine cancer in Shanghai, China in 1939. Shortly after his marriage, he and his young wife went to Shanghai in search of fortune, but they would meet no success while they lived in poverty, with occasional brushes with the criminal underworld (Dai was a gambler). Shanghai was the regional gathering place of intellectuals, however, and it was in the bookstores in Shanghai that he was first introduced to the writings of Sun Yatsen advocating principles of democracy. Slowly becoming passionate in the causes of unifying China and furthering democratic ideals, he joined the Nationalist Party and was introduced to Chiang Kaishek around 1921. In 1926, he entered the sixth class of the Whampoa Military Academy as a cavalry officer candidate; while being a student there, he was also a spy for academy commandant Chiang Kaishek, who was suspicious of the communist elements operating openly in the academy. He changed his name to Dai Li some time during his studies at Whampoa. He dropped out from Whampoa to participate in the Northern Expedition; during this campaign he was made an advance intelligence officer while he also served as the head of Chiang's bodyguards. After the successful Northern Expedition campaign, he was hired by the Whampoa Academy Alumni Association as an intelligence researcher. In 1928, he established the private intelligence network "Clandestine Investigation Section" with the approval of Chiang. In 1932, this private intelligence network was made an official government office, named Special Services Department of the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics. In the 1930s, he also served as the security chief of the Society of Vigorous Practice of the Three People's Principles ("Lixingshe", also informally known as "Blue Shirts Society"). In Dec 1936, when Chiang was kidnapped by Zhang Xueliang, Dai was among the few who traveled to the city of Xi'an to negotiate of Chiang's release, ignoring personal danger. By the time Japan plunged China into full scale war in 1937, he had emerged as one of Chiang's most trusted lieutenants; in fact, he was often said to be the only person Chiang trusted to carry firearms near him. In 1938, the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics was transferred under the military, and Dai served as the deputy commanding officer. By this time, he had trusted agents and informants not only in China but abroad in British India, French Indochina, Japan, and the United States. Using modern American government organizations for comparison, Bureau of Investigation and Statistics was effectively the equivalent of the combination of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Secret Service. The 1938 reorganization also gave Bureau of Investigation and Statistics power over some anti-Japanese guerrilla groups such as the effective Loyal Patriotic Force.

ww2dbaseAs a person, Dai was said to be intelligent and well-spoken. It was difficult to get close to him, however. Japanese military and Chinese communists regularly dispatched assassins against him, thus making him extremely secretive. He allowed few photographs, rarely spoke in public, and avoided letting too many people know of his travel plans. He was fiercely loyal to the Nationalist government and his subordinates. On the grounds of his country estate outside of Chongqing, China, for example, he established an orphanage and light industries so that family members of those who fought and died for Dai could have a place to live and work. On the other hand, he also demanded complete loyalty and integrity from fellow Chinese, and he was not hesitant in eliminating those who exhibited suspicious behavior. He was said to have given orders for the execution of about 2,000 of his own Bureau of Investigation and Statistics personnel for disloyalty between 1938 and 1946. In 1940, he gave the order to bury alive the corrupt high ranking finance official Lin Shiliang. Some had said that Dai played a part in the death of Japanese collaborator Wang Jingwei, who passed away from sickness mysteriously in Nagoya, Japan in 1944. In terms of his views toward westerners, he was generally distrustful, especially after dealing with the British Special Operations Executive in 1940 and early 1941, which repeatedly hid their agenda from him, and his agents were always able to uncover the truth for him. This would change, however.

ww2dbaseIn Dec 1941 and Jan 1942, Dai personally traveled to Burma twice to start a fledgling intelligence network among the ethnic Chinese residents of that country.

ww2dbaseIn 1942, Dai was introduced to Milton Miles, an officer of the United States Navy. It was Miles who persuaded that the some Americans could be trusted, and the two of them reached the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO) agreement in which the Chinese and the US Navy joined forces to gather weather information, monitor Japanese ground and sea movements, and train a skilled guerrilla force. Although dealings with William Donovan of the Office of Special Services (OSS) and Albert Wedemeyer would once again sour his respect for Americans, his friendship with Miles never wavered. As the sponsor to SACO, he ensured that Miles and Miles' men had ample logistical support as they traveled all across China to establish weather stations and training camps. Dai was officially the commanding officer of SACO, but he largely trusted Miles to conduct the operations. He and Miles shared the credit of staff each unit within SACO with an American commander and a Chinese deputy, or vice versa, a policy that significantly advanced cultural understandings within this dual-nationality organization. Dai hosted the headquarters of SACO at his country estate on Gele Mountain northwest of Chongqing, China, not far from where he housed the widows and orphaned children previously noted.

ww2dbaseIn 1943, Dai took on concurrent roles in the finance and transportation branches of the government. In 1944 and 1945, he transformed the guerrilla Loyal Patriotic Force, which had performed admirably against the Japanese in the early years of the Second Sino-Japanese War, into a highly organized para-military force for his use against Chinese Communist forces; he also intended on using the Loyal Patriotic Force to prepare the beachheads on the Chinese coast for the planned US Navy landing (which would not take place).

ww2dbaseAt 0945 hours on 17 Mar 1946, Dai boarded a passenger aircraft at Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, traveling for Shanghai. En route, as Shanghai was under poor weather, the pilot decided to fly for Nanjing instead, but the course change still failed to steer the aircraft clear of the storm system. At 1313 hours, the pilot contacted air traffic control at Nanjing that he was beginning his landing approach. Shortly after, the aircraft crashed into the Dai Mountain southwest of Nanjing, killing all aboard. Witnesses reported seeing the plane plunge into the mountain before seeing the explosion, but there were some who believed that Dai's political enemies, either the Chinese Communists or the OSS, planted a bomb on the aircraft. Dai's remains were identified by his gold teeth and the pistol given to him by Miles as a present on their first meeting. Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai, upon learning of Dai's death, exclaimed that this event would move up the Communist victory by ten years; Zhou was right, in that the lieutenants in the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics fought against each other to become Dai's successor, thus the effectiveness of the spy network suffered. Dai's burial place outside of Nanjing was desecrated by the Chinese Communists in 1949. A memorial to Dai would later be erected in Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. Chiang was once heard to have exclaimed that the Nationalist would not have lost mainland China if Dai had not passed away so young.

Linda Kush, The Rice Paddy Navy

Last Major Revision: Jun 2015

Dai Li Interactive Map


Portrait of Dai Li, circa 1930sGreen Gang crime lord Du Yuesheng (center), Chinese government intelligence chief Dai Li (right), Shanghai or near Shanghai, China, 1930sPortrait of Dai Li, circa 1930sDai Li and his children, China, 1930s-1940s
See all 34 photographs of Dai Li

Dai Li Timeline

28 May 1897 Dai Chunfeng was born in the village of Baoan, Jiangshan County, Zhejiang Province, Qing Dynasty China.
4 Sep 1945 Dai Li, with Chiang Kaishek's support, dissolved the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO) as its mission had been concluded successfully.
17 Mar 1946 Dai Li passed away in an aircraft accident in Nanjing, China.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
9 Nov 2019 04:27:49 AM

Dai Li was an evil man.that cannot be sugar coated.he loved the Nazi's,and loved torture.he is not to be looked in any other light

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Event(s) Participated:
» Xi'an Incident

» Press Release on SACO in China During World War II

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» The Rice Paddy Navy: U.S. Sailors Undercover in China

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