Li Yu-ying (Li Shizeng) - History of His Work with Soyfoods and Soybeans in France, and His Political Career in China and Taiwan (1881-1973)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-35-8

Publication Date: 2011 June 8

Number of References in Bibliography: 203

Earliest Reference: 1905

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Chronology of Li Yu-ying (Courtesy name: Li Shizeng)

 Li is generally known to the world as Li Shizeng (his “courtesy name”), whereas he used his original name, Li Yu-ying, on all of his soy-related documents (books, articles, patents, etc.).
Li Yu-ying (pinyin: Li Yuying) was one of the most remarkable and creative figures in the early history of soyfoods in France and Europe. In 1912 he wrote one of the most important books to date about soybeans and soyfoods in Europe. He was the first person from East Asia to think about soyfoods like a Westerner, to grasp the great potential for soyfoods in the West, to start a soy dairy in Europe, to design modern equipment for making soymilk and tofu, to develop, make and market a full line of original Western-style soyfoods in Europe, to popularize commercial tofu and soymilk, and to play a key international role in the transmission of soyfoods from East to West.
Li’s work with soy (especially tofu and soymilk) and his work with politics always went together and were deeply connected.
He later became an important person in Chinese history – one of the “four elder statesmen of the Kuomintang.”
1881 May 29 – Li Yü-ying is born into a prominent family in Beijing, China, although his native place was Kaoyang, Chihli (Hebei). His father, Li Hongzao (Li Hung-tsao), was a dignitary at the Imperial Court of the Qing / Manchu dynasty. He held high offices in the Qing government such as Grand Councillor and tutor to Tsai-ch’ien, the T’ung-chi emperor. Li’s mother, who was his father’s second wife, was Mrs. Yang Shao-Ji.
      Li is the youngest of five brothers (two of whom died at an early age). He had either 3 or 4 sisters, three of whom died at an early age.
      Li later wrote (in Le Soya in 1911) that his father had been “nourished from the first year with soymilk. He is now 37 years old and has always been in excellent health.” Yet his father died in 1897!
      Li is exposed to reformist ideas at an early age. In China he studies in an environment open to Western / Occidental ideas and culture.
1897 – Li’s father dies in China. The Qing government awards Li and his elder brother the high rank of lung-chang.
1897 – Li (age 17) marries Yao Tongyi (Yao T’ung-yi, who was Li’s older cousin). They have two children. Li Zongwei (Li Tsung-wei), a son, was born in 1899 in China and died in 1976. Li Yamei (Li Ya-mei; called “Micheline”), a daughter, was born in 1910 in Paris, France. Li’s son married Ji Xiengzhan and his daughter married Zhu Guangyi. From this marriage, Li had two grandsons (Li Dayang and Li Eryang) and one granddaughter (Li Ailian) (Boorman & Howard 1967, p. 321; Yang 1980).
1899 ca. – Li’s coming-of-age capping ceremony. His parents give him the “courtesy name” Li Shizeng, which is used mostly in his political and public life, and is the name by which he is known to the world.
1901 – Li meets Zhang Renjie (Chang Jen-chieh), with whom he establishes a life-long friendship. The two young men have many common interests, the strongest of which is the desire to travel abroad.
1902 – When Sun Baoqi (Sun Pao-ch’i) is appointed minister to France, they join his staff as attachés. Over 20 government and private students travel in the group. In June, on his way to France, Li stops for a while in Shanghai, where he meets Wu Zhihui (Wu Chih-hui) and Cai Yuanpei (Ts’ai Yuan-p’ei), who were also later to become his lifelong friends.
1903 – Li arrives with the group in Paris. He is age 22. This group soon becomes widely known among Chinese, and later among Chinese historians, as “The Paris group.”
1903-06 – Li abandons his intention of becoming a Mandarin in order to undertake studies in agronomy at the Chesnoy School of Practical Agriculture (Ecole pratique d’agriculture de Chesnoy) at Montargis, about 60 miles southwest of Paris.
1905 – Li presents his first paper on soy (in French) at the Second International Dairy Congress in Paris; it is later published in the proceedings. He emphasizes that the introduction of soybean milk to Western countries would be highly beneficial to public health and to the budget of the poor.”
1905 – Wu Zhihui arrives in Paris in late 1905 and joins with Li and with Zhang Renjie in founding the World Society (Shi Jie She; W.-G. Shih-chieh-she), a cultural and revolutionary publishing house with an affiliated printing establishment.
      In early 1907 Zhang , who was from a wealthy Chinese family and was running a successful import-export company between Paris and China, financed the establishment of an important Chinese-language weekly magazine titled New Century (Xin Shi Ji; W.-G. Hsin shih-chi), which began publication on 22 June 1907 and issued 121 numbers before ceasing publication on 21 May 1910 because of heavy financial losses. Li and Wu, both of whom had become ardent anarchists, wrote most of the articles for the magazine. “For three years this journal was to champion the causes of anarchism and revolution, reaching Chinese students and intellectuals in all parts of the world” (Scalapino & Yu 1961. Boorman & Howard 1967).
1906-10 – Li leaves Montargis for Paris where he enrolls in biochemistry, chemistry and biology at the Sorbonne and works as an intern in the laboratory of Gabriel Bertrand at the Pasteur Institute. Under Bertrand, he conducts research on soybeans.
1907 – Li and Xia Jianzhong (Hsia Chien-chung) establish the Far Eastern Biological Society (also called Biological Society of the Far East; Société biologique de l'Extrême-Orient). Made up of physicians, scholars (men of letters), and businesspeople, this society would seem to have as its principal goal to make known and have used in Europe the pharmaceutical and agricultural products of the Far East [East Asia]. Li has by now done considerable research on the soybean at the Pasteur Institute.
1907 – Li, still a Chinese citizen, joins the Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolutionary Alliance), a clandestine resistance movement, founded by Sun Yat Sen, that aims at giving China back to the Chinese people, establishing a republic, and redistributing the land equitably.
1907 – During this time, Li develops his political philosophy as an anarchist, drawing inspiration from the thought of Kropotkin, Proudhon, and Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), with whose nephew Li was personally acquainted.
      In 1907 the first nucleus of anarchists appears in Paris. Its most important members are Li Yuying, Wu Zuihui, and later Zhang Ji (Chang Chi). Although Laozi / Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese sage, was also an anarchist, the Paris group tended to dismiss or even actively oppose any association of anarchism with traditional culture.
1908 – Li becomes a vegetarian – and apparently remains one for the rest of his life. He also decides to establish a company to manufacture soybean products (Boorman & Howard 1967, p. 319).
1908 – According to several sources, Li publishes his first book, The Soybean (Le Soja) (Huang Shirong 1908; Yang 1980). Note: We have never seen this book or seen it cataloged. The earliest book we have seen by Li about soy was published in 1910 in Chinese.
1908 or 1909 – After 6 years in France, Li returns to China to raise funds for his tofu company ($400,000 of startup capital). Six months later he returned to France with five workers and (apparently) a large supply of Chinese soybeans and coagulant. In France he and his engineers design modern equipment to transform soybeans into soymilk and then tofu. Li establishes the world’s first soy dairy, named the Tofu Manufacturing Co. (Usine de la Caséo-Sojaïne), located in a large brick building at 46-48 Rue Denis Papin, Les Valées, Colombes (near Asnières), a few miles northwest of Paris. He has two main reasons for establishing this plant: (1) He believes that soya could help China to meet its dietary needs and he wants to develop a model processing plant; (2) He wants to be able to provide work for about 30 worker-students that he brings from China to whom he provides additional intellectual training by setting up evening classes. The young Chinese workers use their wages to pursue their studies in France. They are escorted to France by Qi Rushan (Ch’i Ju-shan), whose elder brother, Qi Zhushan (Ch’I Chu-shan) managed the factory. Within a year, a second round of workers arrived from China to work at the tofu factory.
1909 – Li welcomes his friend, Sun Yat Sen, on a visit to Paris, to his Tofu Manufacturing Co., located just outside of Paris. Sun wrote: “My friend Li Shizeng has conducted research on soybeans and advocates eating soybean foods instead of meat.”
1910 Dec. – Li applies for the world's first soymilk patents (British Patents No. 30,275 and 30,351). The first patent is titled "Vegetable milk and its derivatives" and the second concerns fermented soymilk. He is issued both patents in Feb. 1912. The first patent is packed with original ideas, including various French-style cheeses and the world’s first industrial soy protein isolate, called Sojalithe, after its counterpart, Galalith, made from milk protein. Li notes that Sojalithe could be used as an ivory substitute.
      Also, on Dec. 27, he applied for two French patents, No. 424,124 concerning soy flour and its derivatives, and No. 424,125 concerning food products and condiments made from the soybean. He was issued both patents on 5 May 1911.
1910- Li’s first major book, Ta Tou: Le Soja (The Soybean) is published in Paris by the Far Eastern Biological Society (Société biologique de l'Extrême-Orient; 66 pages). It is written entirely in Chinese.
1910 – While on a trip to China, Li attends the Nanking Exposition, where he sees 400 soybean varieties on display from various provinces. He may have been looking for new varieties to use for making tofu in has factory, or for cultivation in France (Li 1911. Jan. 12, p. 50). Also in 1910 a third round of workers arrives from China to work at the tofu factory. The total number of workers is now more than 30. When the workers are not working, they are studying Chinese and French; they are not allowed to drink, smoke, or gamble.
1911 May 15 – Li serves his vegetarian ham (jambon végétal), soy cheese (fromage de Soya), soy preserves (confitures de Soya, such as crème de marron), soy bread (pain de Soya), etc. at the annual lunch of France’s national Society for Acclimatization (Société d’Acclimatation) in keeping with its tradition of introducing new foods from little-known plants (Bois 1927, p. 126).
1911 April – Li applies for three more French patents, and one U.S. patent, related to soy.
1911 Sept. – From Sept. 1911 to April 1912 Li collaborates with Mr. L. Grandvoinnet (a French agricultural engineer who works with Li at his tofu plant), to write a series of eight articles titled “The Soybean” (Le Soja), published in consecutive issues of the periodical L’Agriculture Pratique des Pays Chauds (Bulletin du Jardin Colonial). This series is both an expansion and a reworking of the ideas presented in Li’s Chinese-language book of 1910, for these articles are now intended to be read by Frenchmen rather than Chinese.
1911 Oct. – Li returns to China during the Xinhai Revolution (or Revolution of 1911). The revolution began with the Wuchang Uprising of 10 Oct. 1911 and ended with the abdication of Emperor Puyi on 12 Feb. 1912. The overthrow of the Qing / Manchu dynasty and its last emperor marks the end of thousands of years of powerful imperial rule; theoretically this would usher in a new era in which political power rested with the people. However, in reality, China became a fragmented nation dominated by warlords.
1912 –The pioneering series of eight articles by Li and Grandvoinnet is published as Soya – Its Cultivation, Dietary, Therapeutic, Agricultural and Industrial Uses (Paris: A Challamel, 150 p.). Their magnum opus, it is one of the earliest, most important, influential, creative, interesting, and carefully researched books ever written about soybeans and soyfoods. Its bibliography on soy is larger than any published prior to that time. Only Die Sojabohne, by Haberlandt (1878) and Le Soya, by Paillieux (1880) can rival it in influence – but not in scope concerning soyfoods.
1912 April – Li Yuying, Wu Zhihui, ad Cai Yuanpei establish in Beijing the Society for Frugal Study in France (liufa jianxuehui; W.-G. Liu-fa chien-hsueh hui), with the intent of preparing young Chinese for low-cost studies (China $600 a year) in France. It is also known as the Society for Rational French Education (la Societé Rationelle des Etudiants Chinois en France). A preparatory school is established in Beijing to teach French for 6 months to aspiring students.
      In Jan. 1913 the first group of 30 students reaches France. Li arranges for them to be admitted to the College of Montargis, south of Paris. In all, this thrift-study program enables more than 100 students to study in France (Boorman & Howard 1968, p. 320).
1913 Sept. – After the so-called second revolution in China collapses, most Kuomintang leaders are forced to flee China. Li, together with Wang Ching-wei and Tseng Chung-ming, take their families to France. Wang lived with Li in Montargis and lectured to the thrift-study students.
1915 June 5 – Telegram from Li (in France) to Wu Zhihui: Sales of tofu are getting better, During the first 5 years, tofu sales averaged 500 pieces (cakes) per month, but they have been increasing ever since. Sales of tofu have averaged 10,000 pieces a month this year, and sometimes they are more than 17,000 pieces a month (Li 1980, p. 306).
1916 – When Cai Yuanpei becomes chancellor of Peking University, he invites Li Shizeng to join its faculty as professor of biology. Li’s tofu factory is forced by wartime conditions to suspend operations (Borman & Howard 1967, p. 320).
1917 – Li returns to China.
1919 May 4 The May Fourth Movement starts in China. It grew out of dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles settlement (which awarded Shandong province to Japan). An anti-imperialist, and cultural movement, it marked the upsurge of Chinese nationalism and a re-evaluation of Chinese cultural institutions, such as Confucianism. Li was an active participant, especially as a theorist.
1920 – Li sponsors the establishment of the Sino-French University near Beijing (and serves as chairman of the board), and the Institut Franco-Chinois de Lyon in France; it was housed in a fortress in Lyon which had been donated by the French government. The Chinese government in Canton gave financial support. Wu Zhihui accompanied the first group of students from China to Lyon and became president of the Institut (Boorman & Howard 1967, p. 320).
1924 Jan. – At the First National Congress of the Kuomintang, held at Canton (today’s Guangzhou), Li and Wu Zhihui are elected to the Party’s Central Advisory Committee (Boorman & Howard, p. 320).
1924 Oct. – After warlord Feng Yuxiang occupied Beijing and took control of the Peking government, he decided to expel Puyi (China’s last emperor) from the Forbidden City. Li Shihzeng was appointed the civilian representative to the eviction, which took place on Nov. 5. Li was then appointed chairman of the committee in charge of the inventory and custody of the palace treasures (Boorman & Howard, p. 320).
1925 – The Beijing Palace Museum is established in the Forbidden City (gugong), with Li as chairman of the board and I Peiji (Yi P’ei-chi) as curator.
1925 – Li makes great efforts to secure the return to China of the French portion of the Boxer Indemnity Fund – which is to be used only for cultural and educational activities. After long negotiations, a Sino-French agreement is signed in 1925. All of this money is funneled through Li; it ensures him a position of power at least through World War II; he probably used a very small portion of it to finance his personal projects. This, plus money from his wealthy family, were probably his main sources of income for the rest of his life.
1925 – In France, Li is created a Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur in recognition of his efforts on behalf of Sino-French cooperation (Boorman & Howard, p. 320-21).
1925 March 12 – Sun Yat Sen dies unexpectedly in Peking. This is a setback for the Kuomintang and for the Republic of China.
1927 – During the Kuomintang split into left and right factions, Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui, Cai Yuanpei, and Zhang Renjie (all longtime friends since their days in Paris), staunchly support the conservative faction of Chiang Kai-shek. They are among the members of the Central Supervisory Committee who meet in Shanghai in April and adopt a resolution demanding the expulsion of all Communists from the Kuomintang. They also support the government established by Chiang Kai-shek at Nanking on April 18 in opposition to the Wuhan regime. In later years these four become known as the “four elder statesmen of the Kuomintang” (Boorman & Howard 1967, p. 321, 319).
1927 – Li is now connected with the Kai Cheng Bean Product Company in Peking. Li's former Tofu Manufacturing Company (L'usine de la Caséo-Sojaïne), is now Société Française pour l'exploitation du soja et de ses dérivés, located at 48 Rue Denis-Papin, Les Valées-Colombes (Horvath 1927, p. 19, 36-37).
1928 – Li is a sponsor of the Academia Sinica.
1929 – Li is a sponsor of the National Peiping Research Academy.
1929 Oct. – Chiang Kai-shek’s new government at Nanking promulgates regulations for the palace museum and confirms Li as chairman of the museum’s board of directors. He holds this office until Nov. 1932.
1932 – Li goes to Geneva, Switzerland, to organize the Chinese delegation to the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation sponsored by the League of Nations. While at Geneva he establishes the Sino-International Library. After returning to China, Li commutes regularly between Shanghai, where he lives, and Nanking, where he participates in government and party affairs (Boorman & Howard 1967, p. 321).
1937 July – The Sino-Japanese war begins. Li, who is in Europe traveling between Paris and Geneva, returns to China.
1941 – Li’s first wife, Yao Tongyi dies in Paris. They had been married for 43 years.
1941 – Li leaves war-torn China and travels to New York, where he maintains residence until mid-1945, when he returned to China. But he made several trips to Chunking and Kunming during World War II (Boorman & Howard 1967, p. 321).
 1943 – Li meets Mrs. Ru Su (“Mrs. Vegetarian”), who lives in New York and is Jewish. She becomes his “partner” but they never married. They were involved from 1943 to 1947, but Li lived in the USA only from 1943 to 1945. In 1947 Li telegrammed Mrs. Ru Su that he had decided to marry a Chinese lady.
1945-midLi returns to China. He and Yang Jialo (Yang Chia-lo) work together to compile an encyclopedia, the first volume of which is published in 1946.
1946 Feb. 14Li marries for the second time to Lin Sushan (Lin Su-shan) in Shanghai. She had been married before and divorced. He sends a telegram from Shanghai to many of his friends.
1947 March 16Li (Rector of the National Peiping Research Academy) attends Europe’s First Soya Congress in Paris, France (at the City University). Attended by the greatest soy researchers and advocates in France, it has been organized by the French Bureau of Soya (Bureau Français du Soya), the Laboratory of Soya Experiments (Laboratoire d'Essais du Soya), and the France-China Association (l'Association France-Chin).
1948 Sept. – Li travels to Beijing to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the National Peiping Research Academy.
1949 lateWhen the Chinese Communists begin to threaten Beijing, Li flees China and moves to Geneva. At about the same time, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang flee China and move their seat of government to Taiwan.
1949-1950 – Li and his wife live in Geneva, Switzerland, where he remains until 1950, when Switzerland recognizes the People’s Republic of China. He then moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, taking the Sino-International Library Collection with him.
1950-1954 – Li and his wife live in Montevideo, Uruguay. His wife dies there in 1954.
1954 – Li starts to maintain a second home in Taiwan. From here he serves as national policy advisor to Chiang Kai-shek and a member of the Central Appraisal Committee, which superseded the Central Supervisory Committee.
1957 – Li marries for the third time to Tian Baotian (T’ien Pao-t’ien) in Taipei, Taiwan. He was age 76-77 and she was 42 (and lovely) (Yang 1980).
1973 Sept. 3 – Li dies in Taiwan (probably in or near Taipei) at age 92 years, 3 months and 5 days. His large funeral ceremony is attended by many of Taiwan’s highest dignitaries, politicians, and members of the Kuomintang. He is buried in Taiwan.
Conventions used above:
Spelling: The names of Chinese people and places are spelled using the pinyin system of romanization. On the first mention, the spelling using Wade-Giles system of romanization is given in parentheses. The name should be pronounced the same regardless of spelling. Example of a person – Li Hongzao (Li Hung-tsao).
Order of Chinese personal names: The family name is always written first, followed by the given name – the name given about a month after birth. Example: Li Hongzao.
Dates: All dates are based on the Western (Gregorian) calendar.
In documents cited in the following bibliography: We follow the conventions used in that document – including which name to use (courtesy name vs. original name) when discussing a person. For example, many English-language books and articles before the 1980s use only the Wade-Giles system of romanization, but almost all write personal names with the family name first.
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Click here to download the full text to open and read book Li Yu-ying (Li Shizeng) - History of His Work with Soyfoods and Soybeans in France, and His Political Career in China and Taiwan (1881-1973)