Lieutenant General Dai Li (Tai Li; Chinese: 戴笠; pinyin: Dài Lì; Wade–Giles: Tai4 Li4; May 28, 1897 - March 17, 1946) was born Dai Chunfeng (Tai Chun-feng; 戴春風) with the courtesy name of Yunong (Yu-nung; 雨農) in Bao'an, Jiangshan of Qing Dynasty China's Zhejiang province. He studied at the Whampoa Military Academy, where Chiang Kai-shek served as Chief Commandant, and later became head of Chiang's Military Intelligence Service.
Born Dai Chunfeng, he was just four years old when his father died, leaving his mother to raise him. By age six, Dai was enrolled in a private academy to begin studying Chinese Classics, and later graduated valedictorian from Wenxi County Elementary School. His mother could not afford to send him to university, so at 16 he was forced to leave home and find his own way in the world. With neither secure income nor any guidance, he began living the rough life of the streets of Shanghai. Dai Chunfeng soon became a skilled gambler who could often be found in one of Shanghai's many casinos, trying to win enough money to make ends meet. It was in a Shanghai casino that he met Du Yuesheng, head of the criminal Green Gang. Through Du Yuesheng he later met Chiang Kai-shek. It is unclear when Chiang and Dai first met, but it was likely around 1921. He later lost all of his money and was forced to return home to Bao'an. In 1927, Dai met his elementary school friend Mao Renfeng who suggested that he enroll in the Whampoa Military Academy in Guangzhou, where Chiang was then Superintendent-Commandant. Dai took the suggestion, obtained 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 KMT Officer Training Academy. It was then that he changed his name to Dai Li which in Chinese refers to an assassin's hooded veil, reflecting the clandestine nature of his planned 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.
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.
Dai died in a plane crash on March 17, 1946, possibly arranged by his 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.
- 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, Ba Sing Se.