Li Kao

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Li Kao is a fictional character in Barry Hughart's novels Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. He is a brilliant scholar, con artist, and detective who lives in China during the seventh century C.E. At the time the novels take place, his age is unknown, but he seems to be over a century old. He often wishes aloud that he were ninety again.

He often introduces himself with the phrase "My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character."


Li Kao's parents were two of the most notorious thieves in China. Near the end of his mother's pregnancy, the couple stole the payroll of the Duke of Ch'in's guards. As they were fighting over the loot during their getaway, Li Kao's father was killed by the guards' arrows and his mother was mortally wounded.

The pregnant woman was found by the monks of the Monastery of Sh'u. They were unable to save her, but successfully delivered her baby. As she was dying, the woman gasped out the syllables "Kao...Li...Li...Li...Kao..." The abbot of the monastery heard this and promised the woman that he would honor her request by naming her son Li Kao, and would raise the boy as his own child. Only later did he realize that she was actually requesting one last sip of Kaoliang wine.

Despite never knowing his parents, Li Kao was an accomplished thief from at least the age of five. Upon leaving the monastery as an adult, he turned to a life of crime -...
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