Li Ching-Yuen or Li Ching-Yun (died May 6, 1933) was a Chinese herbalist, martial artist and tactical advisor, known for his supposed extreme longevity. He claimed to be born in 1736, while disputed records suggest 1677. Both claimed lifespans of 197 and 256 years far exceed the longest confirmed lifespan of 122 years and 164 days of the French woman Jeanne Calment. His true date of birth was never determined and his claims have been dismissed by gerontologists as a myth (Wikipedia).
According to a 1930 New York Times article, Wu Chung-chieh, a professor of the Chengdu University, discovered Imperial Chinese government records from 1827 congratulating Li Ching-Yuen on his 150th birthday, and further documents later congratulating him on his 200th birthday in 1877. In 1928, a New York Times correspondent wrote that many of the old men in Li’s neighborhood asserted that their grandfathers knew him when they were boys, and that he at that time was a grown man.
Li Ching Yuen reportedly began his herbalist career at the age of 10, where he gathered herbs in mountain ranges and learned of their potency for longevity. For almost 40 years, he survived on a diet of herbs such as lingzhi, goji berry, wild ginseng, he shoo wu and gotu kola and rice wine. In 1749, at the age of 71, he joined the Chinese armies as teacher of martial arts. Li was said to be a much-loved figure in his community, marrying 23 times and fathering over 200 children.
Sounds unbelievable? Hold tight! According to one of Li’s disciples, he had once encountered an even older 500-year-old man, who taught him Qigong exercises and dietary recommendations that would help him extend his lifespan to superhuman proportions.
Li was asked what his secret was to longevity. The article "Tortoise-Pigeon-Dog", from the May 15, 1933 issue of Time reports on his history, and includes Li's answer to the secret of a long life:
ü Keep a quiet heart
ü Sit like a tortoise
ü Walk sprightly like a pigeon
ü Sleep like a dog
An article in the Evening Independent claims that Li's supposed longevity is due to, in his first century of life, by way of his experimentation with medicinal herbs in his capacity as a druggist, his discovery in the Yunnan mountains of herbs which "prevent the ravages of old age" and which he continued to use throughout his life.
Also, one of his disciples, the Taijiquan Master Da Liu… reports that his master said that his longevity “is due to the fact that I performed the exercises every day – regularly, correctly, and with sincerity – for 120 years.” Certainly his practice of qigong and exercises was a contributor to his longevity.
Li maintained that inward calm and peace of mind combined with breathing techniques were the secrets to incredible longevity. Obviously, his diet would have played a large role. But it’s fascinating that the old living person in recorded history attributes his long life to his state of mind.
We suspect, it is unlikely anyone will ever know exactly old Li Ching-Yuen was at the time of his death — he may have been remarkably old, possibly even older than the longest confirmed human lifespan of 122 years. However, it is highly improbable that he managed to exceed that milestone by as much as 61% to 110%, as claimed in 20th century accounts of his passing. Skeptics believe that any documentation or personal reminiscences supporting Li Ching-Yuen's claims to extraordinary longevity, even if they were genuine, were most likely attributable to his having assumed the identity of a much older ancestor or someone else of similar name.
Sources and Additional Information: