Li is a big surname in China with a large population.
Surname Li families were originally the lineal descendants of Emperor Zhuan Xu, also named Gaoyangshi, and the emperor was once given the land of Gaoyang according to historical records. His grandson Gaotao became an official known as "Liguan" which was as similar as a judge in modern times. At that time, there was a custom that an official post was taken as a surname, thus Gaotao was surnamed as Li.
In the later years of Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC), there was a man named Li Zheng. Loyal and devoted, he often expostulated with Emperor Zhou. Getting angry, the emperor killed him. The wife of Li Zheng, Qiheshi, escaped to the west of Henan with his young son Lizhen. When they came to the "Yi Duke Ruins" in the Yi River valley at the present western Henan Province, they were very hungry and her son was at his last gasp. Fortunately, Qiheshi discovered wild trees with fruit "Muzi" nearby, and then she picked some. As a result, they were saved. Later they escaped to the east of Henan and settled down in Kuxian, (Luyi in Henan), not far away from Huaiyang. To express their appreciation for the fruit, they changed their surname Li, which is another Chinese character's writing form of Li to elude pursuit by the emperor. Since then, Lizhen was surnamed Li. That is the origin of the surname.
There were two major branches for the Li families: one was at Longxi, now in Gansu Province and another at Zhaojun, now in Hebei Province.
There were many famed figures in Chinese history. They include Li Er in the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC), Li Mu, a general in the Warring States Period (475BC-221BC), Li Guang in Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), Li Mi in the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), Li Bai and Li Shangyi in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Li Qingzhao in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279), Li Shizhen and Li Zicheng in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and Li Dazhao and Li Siguang in the modern times.
By People' s Daily Online