Li Qingzhao was born into a Chinese family known for literary talent and service to the emperor. Her poetry was well known even before her marriage in 1101 to a student, Zhao Mingching (1081-1129). In 1103, her husband began his official career; from 1108 the couple lived in Shandong. From 1121, he spent much time traveling around the province; his periodic absences appear to have provided the occasion for some of Li`s love poems. Throughout their married life, the couple collected antiquities; this, combined with the political upheavals of the time, explains the relative poverty in which they lived.
In 1126, the Song dynasty capital, Kaifeng, fell to the Jin people from the north; Shandong was in their path and considerable fighting took place there. In the fighting, the home of Li and Zhao was burnt. In 1127, the emperors were captured by the Jin; the Han loyalists named a new emperor, and the entire court, plus all those who served the court, moved slowly to the south, to establish a new "Southern Song" court in Hangzhou. During this period Zhao died, and Li was left to try to save their collection. Li describes her married life and the turmoil that ended it in Hou hsu.
Li Qingzhao finally arrived at Hangzhou, to spend the rest of her life and to publish her husband`s work, Jin shi lu (Records on metal and stone), a 30-volume collection of inscriptions that Zhao had copied over the years. Li continued to write poetry; we know that she was writing for the court in the 1140s. The last official mention of her is in 1149. Some writers of a slightly later period said that she had remarried and then divorced; the story was denied by neo-Confucian writers with the argument that a proper lady wouldn`t have done such a thing.
Li`s poetry was originally published in seven volumes of shi (traditional poetry) and prose, plus six volumes of ci (these were poems composed to be set to existing popular music). About 50 ci and 17 shi survive. Also extant are two brief prose works: Hou hsu, an epilogue that she added to her husband`s Jin shi lu; and Lun ci, a study of the ci form of poetry.