Tai Li (1895-17 March 1946), the chief of Chiang Kai-shek's intelligence services and one of the most powerful and enigmatic men of the republican period.
The eldest of three children, Tai Li was born in Chiangshan, Chekiang. The Tai family was of obscure origin, but in the generation or two preceding Tai Li's birth his forebears had managed to raise themselves from landless peasants to traders. Tai Li's father was a ne'er-do-well and a plague to this family of otherwise industrious entrepreneurs. His mother, on the other hand, was a member of the locally notable Lan family. She took charge of Tai Li's upbringing after his father died in 1900. Little is known about Tai Li's childhood or youth except that he attended middle school and that he left both school and home in 1909 to join, as a military cadet, a so-called model regiment belonging to the Chekiang Army. From that time until 1926 the record is blank, though in the light of Tai's later activities it is safe to assume that he was not idle and that he probably gained both military and police experience. In 1926 he joined the Kuomintang and became a member of the fourth class at the Whampoa Military Academy. Upon graduation later that year, he joined a cavalry battalion. During the Northern Expedition, Tai Li discovered his talent for intelligence operations. Although he was not a high-ranking officer, he was sent ahead of the troops to assess public sentiment, to evaluate military and political developments, and to report on the best routes of advance and attack. His success in winning over the powerful gangs and secret societies of Shanghai to Chiang Kai-shek's side helped lay the groundwork for Chiang's entry into Shanghai in April 1927. For the next several years Tai Li served on Chiang Kai-shek's staff as an intelligence officer. With the deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations which culminated in the Japanese attack on Mukden on 18 September 1931, Tai was appointed head of the second department of the bureau of investigation and statistics of the Military Affairs Commission. This new department was charged with espionage against Japan and counterespionage against Japanese agents in China. Tai conducted these operations with efficiency and vigor, recruiting an expert staff composed largely of Whampoa graduates. Because of the nature of his work, few details about Tai's activities in the 1931-36 period are known. Generally speaking, he carried on clandestine operations against Communists and other domestic foes in addition to his anti- Japanese activities. At the time of the Sian Incident (see Chiang Kai-shek; Chang Hsuehliang), he helped secure the release of Chiang Kai-shek. He later stated that he had gone to Sian in emulation of Chiang Kai-shek himself, for Chiang had gone to the aid of Sun Yat-sen during Ch'en Chiung-ming's revolt at Canton in 1922.
After the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937, Tai Li was sent to Shanghai to organize and direct guerrilla operations against the Japanese. He made use of his connections with the Ch'ing-pang (Green Gang) and with powerful labor groups to organize a guerrilla force known as the Chung-i chiu-kuo chün [loyal and righteous army of national salvation]. When Shanghai fell to the Japanese in November 1937, Tai moved his headquarters to safer territory but retained direction of anti-Japanese operations. He was recalled to Nanking and was appointed deputy director of the Military Affairs Commission's second bureau of investigation and statistics, which had evolved from the second department. In 1938 he became full director, in charge of more than 100,000 agents throughout China. Loyalties were uncertain in the lower Yangtze valley after 1937, and under Tai's command were the men of the second bureau, members of the Shanghai underworld, labor leaders, supporters of the Communist New Fourth Army, and elements of National Government forces commanded by Ku Chu-t'ung (q.v.). The establishment of the puppet Nanking regime in 1939 added another dimension to Tai's complex network of intrigue. Tai Li, a man of unusual aplomb, turned these complications to his own advantage. One notable success was his infiltration of the Nanking administration, particularly of its police and security forces, over which he exerted a measure of control throughout the war. In 1940, in response to problems arising from commodity speculation and smuggling, Tai received additional appointments as director of the chiao-t'ung yun-shu chien-ch'a ch'u [bureau of control for communications], director of the chi-ssu-shu [anti-smuggling bureau], and director of the huo-yün kuan-li ch'u [commodity transport control bureau]. These appointments, together with the directorship of the second bureau, gave Tai virtually complete control ofthe National Government's intelligence apparatus. With characteristic energy and appetite for action, he did not confine his activities to the direction of the complex services under his command; he also found time to direct important operations and make extensive tours of inspection behind enemy lines. With the entrance of the United States into the war against Japan at the end of 1941, the China theater assumed new strategic importance for the Allied cause. The United States government recognized the need for joint Sino-American efforts, particularly in the field of intelligence. As a result, in May 1942 Tai Li made several long journeys to enemy-held areas in southeast China in the company of Captain (later Rear Admiral) Milton E. Miles, who had just arrived in Chungking to establish weather stations in China and to secure the cooperation of the Chinese intelligence services for the war effort. Tai's prestige among the Chinese behind Japanese lines and the safety with which the party moved, often virtually under Japanese guns, made a favorable impression on Miles, as did Tai's stamina in sustaining daily marches of up to 30 miles. In October 1942 Captain Miles, in addition to his duties as United States Navy observer at Chungking, was appointed director of the operations of the Office of Strategic Services in China. It was chiefly at his suggestion that ways were explored of assisting Chinese guerrillas and establishing weather stations in parts of China held by the Japanese.
One result of Miles's planning was the Sino- American Cooperative Organization (SACO), which was established under an agreement signed on 15 April 1943 by T. V. Soong (q.v.) for China and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox for the United States. Tai Li was appointed commander of the new unit, with Miles as his deputy. SACO carried out a variety of important intelligence tasks, including the establishment of weather stations and guerrilla training camps, the observation of weather phenomena, and the planning of guerrilla operations. In return for their aid, the Chinese under Tai Li received radio equipment, arms, and access to general intelligence. SACO ultimately involved some two thousand Americans, of whom none died in combat and only three were captured. Chinese losses numbered over 4,000.
For all of its relatively light casualties, however, SACO had claws. Tai Li's guerrilla forces, with the assistance of American personnel under Miles, destroyed Japanese supplies and ammunition, cut communications lines, and killed substantial numbers of Japanese. Operating behind enemy lines, SACO was the target of great controversy in the bewildering confusion of commands and intelligence services that operated in the China theater during the final years of the Second World War. Perhaps its most important operation was the establishment of some 14 weather stations to assist the United States Pacific Fleet. These stations provided vital information regarding cloud and wind conditions in the far western Pacific and contributed greatly to American naval and air actions aimed at the Japanese home islands.
During the period of SACO's active existence, Tai Li and Miles worked closely together and traveled over much of China to inspect meteorological and guerrilla units. In April 1945 Chiang Kai-shek paid a personal visit to SACO headquarters and publicly commended the Chinese and Americans who had been responsible for the organization's successful record. By the spring of 1945, it had become apparent that an Allied amphibious invasion of Japan had been scheduled. Tai Li turned his attention to the Japanese-occupied areas of the China coast and along the Yangtze, especially to the metropolitan centers of Shanghai, Nanking, Hankow, and Canton, where enemy troops were concentrated; and he formulated detailed plans for the disruption of attempts he knew would be made to reinforce Japan in the event of an Allied landing. In preparing these plans Tai was aided by the fact that, long before, he had planted or had obtained the support of men in key posts in the Japanese-sponsored government at Nanking.
At war's end, Tai Li assumed the grim duty of running to earth the many puppet officials and other so-called national traitors who had supported the Japanese. In all, his agents were responsible for bringing more than 3,000 such persons to trial. At the Sixth National Congress of the Kuomintang in 1945, Tai was elected to the Central Executive Committee. About this time, Tai turned his attention to the major problem then confronting the National Government: suppression of the Communists. It was probably in connection with this aspect of his work that Tai flew to Tsingtao on 16 March 1946 to confer with the commander of the United States naval forces headquarters there. About noon on 17 March he boarded a Civil Aeronautics Commission plane for the return trip to Shanghai. The plane vanished near Nanking, and its wreckage was found three days later in the mountains near Pangchow. Chiang Kai-shek wept at the news of Tai's death and ordered national mourning. Tai's death caused a great stir, though not all Chinese shared Chiang's grief. Indeed, there were many who refused to believe the news at all, maintaining that it was just another of Tai Li's clever ruses.
Tai Li was married and had two children. His wife, nee Mao, died in 1939. His son, Tai Tsang-i, was a graduate of Ta-t'ung ta-hsueh (Utopia University) and at the time of Tai's death was principal of the Chien-kuo Middle School in the family's native district of Chiangshan, Chekiang. Tai Li also had a daughter, Tai Shu-chih. T'ai-hsu Orig. Lü P'ei-lin Religious. Wei-hsin ± Si g ffi tt