Li Jian was born in Shanghai in 1965 in a musical family. He is the son of the Chinese renowned violinist Yu Lina, who is best-known for the violin concerto The Butterfly Lovers. He began his music studies at the age of six and studied with professor Hong Teng at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He continued his education at the Conservatoire Nationale de Paris, with Pierre Sancan, and The Curtis Institute of Music, with the legendary Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and studied conducting with Jorma Panula.
Jian Li gained worldwide recognition in 1981, when at the age of 16 he won the second prize in the prestigious Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud international competition in Paris. This honor brought him opportunities for playing in European countries including France, Italy, Germany and Britain. He was also the youngest musician chosen by the Chinese government to perform at the national reception honoring U.S. President Jimmy Carter on his historic visit to China. In 1989, he became the first Mainland Chinese musician to be invited to perform in Taiwan.
As a recitalist, he has performed in such prestigious music centers as Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Ambassador Auditorium in Los Angeles, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Theatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Symphony Hall in Osaka and Berlin Philharmonic Hall.
He was Assistant Conductor of the New Jersey State Opera from 1998 through 2001. In 2000, he was conductor for the production of Verdi’s “Aida” in the Shanghai Arena, with over 80,000 people in attendance at each performance. Jian Li has been Artistic Director and Conductor of the Hunan Symphony Orchestra since 2003; and recently he has been named Artistic Director and Conductor of the Tokyo Virtuoso. Since 2004 Jian Li has also been Artistic Director of the Musicians Emergency Fund of New York.
In an interview Jian Li said: "A musician doesn't have to exhibit his own style. His nature is revealed with the music he plays. A good musician should focus on the music and the daring nature of the composer. Otherwise you'll be wrong from the beginning."