The 256 year old man, Li Ching Yuen: Myth, legend or astonishing fact?
Claims of people living incredibly long lives have been made since time immemorial. Verifying them, however, is another matter entirely.
Even in Biblical times, it was claimed that Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, lived between 720 and 969 years. Of course, this is completely impossible to prove today and is simply believed by many people on the basis that the Bible contains literal truth that cannot be disputed. Others say it is merely myth or legend.
In modern times the most interesting claim for longevity, which has been written about extensively even in such mainstream publications as the New York Times and Time Magazine, is that of a Chinese man, Li Ching Yuen, or Li Ching Yun as he is sometimes referred to, who was widely reported to have lived 256 years, according to one reputed birthdate, or 197 years, according to another.
Both these claimed lifespans are far longer than any recorded anywhere and certainly any verified by birth records or birth certificates, like that of a French woman, Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days and is acknowledged as the longest verified age anyone has lived in history. Her birth was recorded in1875 in the city of her birth, Arles in France, so there is no doubt about her birth date. All modern documentation of the longest living human beings, list her as the person who has been verified as having the longest lifespan.
The longest living verified man is listed as Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, born in 1897, who died at an age of 116 years and 54 days, in the year 2013.
But what about Li Ching-Yuen? Although claims that he lived 197 or 256 years have been widely dismissed and are unverified, if he really did live that long it would clearly be the oldest any human being has ever become.
When did Li Ching Yuen born?
Li Ching-Yuen himself said he was born in 1736 in the village of Chenjiachang in Sichuan or Szechwan province of China but his birth year is also said to have been 1677. He died in 1933. Myth? Legend? Perhaps.
But in 1930 it was reported that Professor Wu Chung-Chien, dean of the department of education at China’s Min Kuo University had found records saying Li Ching Yuen was born in 1677 and that the then Imperial government of China, in the Qing dynasty, had congratulated him on his 150th birthday in 1827 and 200th birthday in 1877!
This was reported in 1928 in the two leading Chinese newspapers at the time, The North China Daily News and the Shanghai Declaration News and a year later in the New York Times and Time Magazine.
In 1928 a correspondent wrote in the New York Times that the oldest men in Li’s home province said their grandfathers had known him when they were boys and he was already a grown man.
The 256 year old man was 7 feet tall
The old Chinese man is reputed to have been extremely tall at 2.13 metres or 7 feet and to have been a legendary martial artist who made a living gathering and selling herbs from the early age of 13.
At the age of 51 he is reported to have been a tactician in the army of General Yu Zhongqi and at 72 was hired as a martial arts instructor by provincial Commander in Chief, Yeuh Jong Chyi in 1749.
In 1926 the warlord Wu Pei-Fu reportedly invited Li to Beijing where Li taught at the University Meditation Society at the invitation of the meditation master and author Yin Shi Zi.
In 1927 he visited the home of National Revolutionary Army General Yang Sen, where this picture was taken of him.
The general wrote a book about Li Ching Yuen called A Factual Account of the 250-year-old Good Luck Man. According to the general, Li Ching Yuen retired from his military career at 78 and returned to his life of gathering and selling herbs. He said in his book that Li Ching Yuen and his disciple Yang Hexuan published a book called The Secrets of Li Qingyun’s immortality. He said that in 1920 General Xiong Yanghe interviewed Li (both men were from the same village in Sichuan) and published an article about him in the Nanjing University paper, in 1926.
Li Ching Yuen Diet
Even Li’s purported diet has been written about at length.
He is said to have been a herbalist, travelling to different countries, including Tibet, Vietnam and Thailand, to gather herbs from a very early age until well into his hundreds. He is said to have lived mostly on herbs, including Goji berries (a source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and A, antioxidants, fibre and zinc, said to lower blood pressure and levels of fat and cholesterol); Lingshi (said to improve the immune system and regulate sugar in the body); Wild ginseng (widely used in traditional Chinese medicine to boost the immune system and provide antioxidants); He Shoo wu (which boosts the immune system, has antibacterial properties, cleanses the kidneys and liver): Gotu Kola (knows as the king of herbs, which treats viral and bacterial infections, anxiety and depression); and rice wine( which apparently protects the body from infections).
An article in the Evening Independent claimed that Li’s longevity was due to his use of medicial herbs which “prevent the ravages of old age”.
He reportedly meditated for many hours every day, practiced martial arts and lived by the principles of “Keep a quiet heart, sleep like a dog, sit like a tortoise and walk sprightly like a pigeon”.
Li Ching-Yuen is said to have had 24 wives during his lifetime and to have left more than 200 descendants behind him.
But gerontologists, who study the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of ageing, are extremely sceptical about the claims for Li’s extreme age.
For one thing, all 10 of the people who lived longest and whose ages were verified, have been women.
They are: 1. Jean Calment (France) 122 years, 164 days; 2. Sarah Knauss (US) 119 years, 97 days; 3. Nabi Tajima (Japan) 117 years, 260 days; 4. Lucy Hannah (US) 117 years, 248 days; 5. Marie-Louise Meilleur (Canada) 117 years, 230 days; 6. Violent Brown (Jamaica) 117 years, 189 days; 7. Emma Morano (Italy) 117 years, 137 days; 8. Chiyo Miyako (Japan) 117 years, 81 days; 9. Misao Okawa (Japan) 117 years, 27 days; 10. Maria Capovilla (Ecuador) 116 years, 347 days.
The 10 longest living verified men did not live as long as the women:
They are: 1. Jiroemon Kimura, (Japan) 116 years, 54 days; 2. Christian Mortensen, (US) 115 years, 252 days; 3. Emiliano Mercado del Toro, (Puerto Rico) 115 years, 156 days; 4. Mathew Beard (US) 114 years, 222 days; 5. Walter Breuning, (US) 114 years, 205 days; 6. Yukichi Chuganji (Japan) 114 years, 189 days; 7. Joan Riudavets (Spain) 114 years, 81 days; Fred H. Hale, Sr (US) 113 years, 354 days; 9. Yisrael Krista (Israel) 113 years, 330 days; 10. Johnson Parks 113 years, 275 days.
These ages have all been verified, and it can be seen that they are very far from the length of life attributed to Li Ching-Yuen.
He definitely existed, there is no doubt about that. How long he lived, however, is uncertain. Many people believe the unbelievable, that he lived for 265 years. Many do not. We will never know for certain.
The picture above is published in various places on the internet and purports to be of Li Ching Yuen near the end of his life.
Even the contemporary reports about him, which could be sincere and believed by the authors to be factual, could be attributed to Li’s assuming the identity of a much older ancestor of someone else with a similar name or to being confused with such a person.
The photographs of him that exist show an extremely old man.
Perhaps what matters more than the numbers, which cannot be confirmed are the accounts of the methods he used to prolong his life to what was certainly a very great age, although unverified.
His diet and daily practices were healthy and would prolong anyone’s life, although it is extremely doubtful that any human being could live to 197 or 256.
That might just not be possible. But who really knows?