Chun-Li made her debut in the original version of Street Fighter II as one of the game's eight playable characters and the sole female character in the game (before the addition of later characters such as Cammy, Rose and Sakura).Chun-Li's backstory centers on her quest to avenge her father's death, an undercover police agent who disappeared while investigating M. Bison's organization. In her ending, she fulfills her revenge and decides to return to her life as an ordinary girl. In Super Street Fighter II, the player is given the option to make Chun-Li return to ordinary life or continue her work as a police officer.

Chun-Li is brought back in Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors' Dreams, which is set prior to the events of the Street Fighter II. Chun-Li is depicted as an undercover ICPO agent who is after M. Bison and his drug cartel. In the first Alpha game Chun-Li is dressed in a Chinese acrobatics outfit, although the two sequels: Alpha 2 and Alpha 3 feature Chun-Li's original outfit from SFII as an alternate version of the character with alternate special abilities and super combos.

She appears as a playable character in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, the third iteration of Street Fighter III, as one of five new playable characters that were added, making her one of the few Street Fighter characters to appear in all major sub-series. Set years after the Street Fighter II, Chun-Li has retired from street fighting to teach martial arts to young children, but is forced to return to law enforcement after one of her students is abducted by Urien.

Chun-Li appears in Street Fighter IV as one of the returning World Warriors from SFII (which was subtitled World Warriors) with her brand new Ultra Move, Hōsenka (鳳扇華 Phoenix's Fan Petals?). Her in-game narrative shows she is at a current crossroads in her life and her eventual return to both street fighting and law enforcement.

In the Street Fighter EX sub-series, Chun-Li's story is similar to that of Street Fighter II, in which she is a police officer investigating Shadaloo in search of her missing father, instead of avenging his death.

In the Street Fighter II sub-series and most of her later appearances, Chun-Li wears a qipao, an early 20th century Chinese dress. In the beta version of Street Fighter II, Chun-Li was originally depicted wearing an orange qipao instead of blue. The dress is modified to allow a far wider range of movement than a generic qipao. Her ensemble also includes a pair of white combat boots and brown tights. Chun-Li famously wears her hair in "ox horns"; she wears silk brocades and ribbons in her hair, signifying the mourning of her father. Another familiar part of her ensemble are the large spiked bracelets she wears on her wrists.

In the Street Fighter Alpha games (set during the time period before Street Fighter II), Chun-Li wears an embroidered vest, a unitard, and athletic shoes. She wears her ox horns unadorned. She also wears her original Street Fighter II outfit when you choose her X-ism mode in Alpha 3.

In Street Fighter 4, Chun Li's alternate outfit consists of black night gown with gold accents at the bottom. She wears a black and gold sash held by a red rope-like belt. She wears her ox horns unadorned, just like in her Alpha appearance, only this time it's held by red ropes with golden balls at the tip. The outfit is completed with red shoes, gold earrings and black and gold bracelets. The outfite resembles the clothes she wore in one of the episodes of the American cartoon

Chun-Li is also known for her large, muscular thighs compared to her otherwise petite body. This is due to many of her moves involving kicking, and her active job and lifestyle.

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