Liu Geping was born on 8 August 1904 into a large landowning family of Muslim Hui ethnicity in Dadi East Village (大堤东村), Mengcun County, Hebei Province. He also used the names Liu Zimin (刘子敏) and Liu Xiangnong (刘襄侬). In 1918 he joined the army of Li Chun, a warlord of the Zhili Clique, and entered its military school in Nanjing. The next year he participated in the May Fourth Movement as an Activist. He joined the Chinese Socialist Youth League in 1922, and returned home to spread revolutionary values. Instrumental in the founding of the first socialist youth cell in the area, in December 1925 he co-led an armed peasant uprising against the Beiyang government, the first of its kind in northern China.
In July 1926, Liu joined the Communist Party of China and then spearheaded a series of educational initiatives aimed at increasing the influence of the party in the Tianjin-Hebei region. After founding schools and party organizations in dozens of counties, he took part in the founding of a 300-strong "Southern Tianjin Revolutionary Army", which aimed to topple Warlords and incite armed uprisings. In June 1928 he led a peasant uprising in Qingyun County, occupying the county seat and taking guns from the local police. He was arrested that year for his agitation and spent the next three years in prison. After he was released, the Communist Party sent him to Shaanxi to work for Yang Hucheng's army.
After the Mukden incident and subsequent Japanese incursions into China, Liu became a founding member of the "Hui People Against Japanese Invasion" organization. In 1932 he returned home to work on military operations and to coordinate underground party activities. He was again arrested on April 20, 1934, after organizing the Majia River (马颊河) uprising in Qingyun. He was held in Caolanzi Prison (草岚子监狱) in Beijing, along with 61 other Communist Party Leaders including Bo Yibo, An Ziwen, and Liu Lantao (no relation). To secure their release, the Communist Party Central Committee advised them to sign an announcement denouncing communism. Most complied and were released by the Kuomintang government, but Liu Geping was among the few who refused and served his full sentence.
After his release in 1944, Liu took on more leadership roles within the Tianjin branch of the Communist Party. He then went to Shandong to found an organization for ethnic Hui to aid Soldiers on the front lines of the Chinese Civil War. In March 1949, he went south with the People's Liberation Army to East China and served as vice-principal of the newly established East China People's Revolution University.
In September 1949, Liu Geping was selected as an ethnic minority representative to attend the first meeting of the Communist-led Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; he was ranked first among minority delegates. At the founding ceremony of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949, he was selected to speak in Tiananmen Square as the official representative of China's minority peoples.
Liu joined the government and became deputy Director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission. In this capacity Liu frequently visited western areas with high minority populations. He was a delegate to the 1st National People's Congress in 1954. After the congress, Liu and the Tibetan communist Phünwang were assigned to accompany the 14th Dalai Lama, also a delegate, on his tour of Chinese cities, which had a great impact on the Dalai Lama.
In 1956, Liu was elected a member of the 8th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. In 1958, Liu began heading up the party organization of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on an interim basis. He became the first Chairman of the autonomous region government in October 1958. Because he took a moderate approach to policies toward ethnic minorities, he was branded an "ethnic splittist" in 1960. In September he was dismissed from all of his positions and sent back to Beijing to take part in "rehabilitation" at the Central Party School.
In December 1965, Liu regained favour and was named Vice-Governor of Shanxi province. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, having gained the support of leftist radicals in Beijing, Liu successfully overthrew his superior Wei Heng and became Chairman of the Shanxi Revolutionary Committee, the de facto top leader. Wei was imprisoned and committed suicide. Meanwhile, the Central Cultural Revolution Group, led by Kang Sheng and Jiang Qing, began to investigate the case of the 61 communist Leaders who were instructed to denounce communism at Caolanzi Prison in the 1930s. The officials, notably Bo Yibo and An Ziwen, were branded as the "61 Renegades Clique" and persecuted. In contrast, Liu Geping was heralded as a hero for his refusal to sign the denunciation. He was invited to make speeches all over the country and was re-elected to the 9th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in April 1969. However, Liu had also become involved in major disputes with the military Leaders in Shanxi and was engaged in factional violence in the province. He was dismissed from office in July 1969, just three months after his re-election to the Central Committee. In 1970, he was sent to perform manual labour at a pottery factory in Tangshan. He was allowed to return to Beijing in 1975.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 and the pivotal 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the post-Mao Communist Party cleared Liu's name and declared that he "did not have any political problems." In 1983, he was named a member of the National Committee of the 6th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a ceremonial position.
Liu died in Beijing on 11 March 1992. He was given full funeral rites at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery. His body was taken back to his native village and buried according to Muslim Hui rituals.