Born in Xi'an, China in 1959, Li studied at the from 1985 to 1987, after which he moved to Germany. There he made several documentary films and spent some time acting on German television before eventually enrolling and graduating from the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne in 1995. In China, however, the film’s critical eye toward the notoriously dangerous mining industry proved controversial and ''Blind Shaft'' was banned by the Beijing Film Bureau. However, neither the precise reasoning nor the length of the ban was made known to Li.
After his ban, Li Yang split his time between Hong Kong and Germany and gave at least one interview where he claimed,
Despite his worries, the ban was eventually lifted and Li was allowed to begin work on his follow up to ''Blind Shaft''. Entitled ''Blind Mountain'' , it debuted at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival in the Prix un certain regard competition and was one of only three Asian films vying for an award at the prestigious event. Like Li's previous film, ''Blind Mountain'' turns a sharply critical eye towards another one of China's continuing social problems, this time the illegal sex slave trade. ''Blind Mountain'' also shares the same realistic style as ''Blind Shaft'' as seen in the latter film's cast of mostly non-professional actors and its use of .
Awards and nominations
*Berlin International Film Festival,
**Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement – ''Blind Shaft''
*Golden Horse Awards,
**Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Source – ''Blind Shaft''
*Tribeca Film Festival,
**Best Narrative Feature – ''Blind Shaft''
*Edinburgh International Film Festival,
**New Director's Award - ''Blind Shaft''
*Hawaii International Film Festival,
**Best Film - ''Blind Shaft''
*Hong Kong International Film Festival,
**Silver Firebird - ''Blind Shaft''
*International Film Festival Bratislava,
**Grand Prix - ''Blind Mountain''
**Special Mention of the Ecumenical Jury - ''Blind Mountain''