This lovely Tudor-style house, currently for sale in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, was once home to Li Zongren (李宗仁), acting president of the Republic of China. Although little-known today, Li played an important role in the early history of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) regime on the mainland. He commanded the Fourth Army Corps in the Northern Expedition, which united much of China under Nationalist control. Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek eventually removed Li and his allies, known as the “Guangxi Faction” or “Guangxi Clique” (Guangxi was Li’s home province), from the Nationalist army. The Guangxi Faction, although technically warlords in opposition to the Republic of China, went on to rule Guangxi in a progressive way that earned considerable praise and attention in the 1930s. Li and his allies also pushed Chiang Kai-shek to fight Japanese encroachment and rejoined the Nationalist regime after Japan launched a full scale invasion of China in 1937. During the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945), Li Zongren gained a reputation as one of the KMT’s better generals.
Chiang Kai-shek never trusted Li, however, and relations between the two men grew even worse when the National Assembly elected Li vice president of the Republic of China in 1948, as the nation’s Communist-Nationalist civil war raged. Chiang, who ran unopposed for president, had supported another vice presidential candidate, Sun Yat-sen’s son Sun Fo. Many in the Assembly voted for Li to protest Chiang’s failures in the civil war. In early 1949, after Beijing fell to the communist People’s Liberation Army, Chiang Kai-shek resigned the presidency and fled with two hundred thousand troops and the nation’s treasury to the island of Taiwan. Li became acting president and tried to negotiate with the Chinese communists even as he continued to resist their advancing army. However, Chiang Kai-shek withheld troops and money from Li, who retreated to Guangdong, Chongqing, and finally Yunnan, before fleeing to Hong Kong and then on to the United States. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party established the new People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
Arriving in New York, Li, his wife Guo Dejie (郭德潔), and his aide Kan Chieh-hou (甘介侯), rented 4645 Delafield Avenue in Riverdale. Almost immediately, Li went into the hospital for ulcer surgery, but as he recuperated, he and his entourage began a campaign to receive US government recognition and support. President Harry Truman had publicly stated in January 1950 that the US would not provide aid to the Chiang regime to prevent the communists from invading Taiwan. That said, Congress had appropriated some $75 million in aid to the “China area,” and both Li and Chiang lobbied to get this unspent money. Li publicly announced plans to launch a campaign to retake the mainland from Hainan Island, still in KMT hands.
As he lobbied for recognition, Li received help from Harry Truman’s friend Albert Kam Chow, a Democratic and Kuomintang leader known as the “Mayor of Chinatown” in San Francisco. With Chow’s assistance, Li and Kan arranged a lunch with Truman on March 2, 1950. But Chiang Kai-shek struck first, resuming the presidency of the Republic of China on March 1. Li protested the act as unconstitutional and went ahead with the Truman lunch, but he was unable to get anything more than moral support from the US president. The State Department recognized Chiang as president of the Republic of China, and a month later, the Chinese Communists invaded Hainan Island. After the Korean War began, the US increasingly extended aid and protection to the Chiang regime on Taiwan. All of these developments scared off Li Zongren’s former supporters.
Still, Li continued his anti-Chiang activities into the 1950s, announcing that he would start an opposition newspaper (it never materialized) in New York and leading a coalition of non-communist, non-KMT “Third Force” parties (the group fell apart in 1955). After remaining in exile for another decade, Li and his wife returned to mainland China in 1965. Warmly welcomed by the Communists, he criticized US policy in Vietnam and America’s support for the KMT regime on Taiwan.
Li died in Beijing in 1969. His Harvard-educated aide, the onetime KMT deputy foreign minister Kan Chieh-hou, did not follow his former boss back to the mainland. Instead, he settled in the United States permanently, working as a professor at New Jersey State College from 1957 until his retirement in 1973. He passed away in Dobbs Ferry in 1984 at the age of 87.
As far as the 4645 Delafield home, Li and his entourage likely vacated it within a year or two of the Truman lunch. By then, Li was dependent for support on Chinese American sympathizers, and the home’s nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms must have been quite expensive. Today, the house is listed at $4.625 million.
Sources for this post include the Li Tsung-jen and V.K. Wellington Koo papers in the Columbia University Special Collections, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Liu Boji (Pei Chi Liu), Meiguo huaqiao shi, xubian (History of the American Overseas Chinese, sequel) (Taipei: Li Ming Cultural Enterprises, Ltd., 1981), and the Chinese World (世界日報).