When the Chinese herbalist Li Ching-Yuen died in 1933, newspapers around the world reported the news of his passing. According to his own testimony, he was 197 years old.
An investigation, however, suggested Li had forgotten his actual birthday. Official government records recorded the birth year as 1677, making him 256. Here is a copy of the obituary as printed in the New York Times on May 6, 1933:
LI CHING-YUN DEAD; GAVE HIS AGE AS 197.
“Keep a Quiet Heart, Sit Like a Tortoise, Sleep Like a Dog,” His Advice for a Long Life.
Inquiry Put Age At 256.
Reported to have buried 23 wives and had 180 descendents – sold herbs for first 100 years.
Peiping, May 5 – Li Ching-Yun, a resident of Kaihsien, in the Province of Szechwan, who contended that he was one of the world’s oldest men and said he was born in 1736 – which would make him 197 years old – died today.
A Chinese dispatch from Chungking telling of Mr. Li’s death said he attributed his longevity to peace of mind and that it was his belief every one could live at least a century by attaining inward calm.
Compared with estimates of Li Ching-yun’s age in previous reports from China the above dispatch is conservative. In 1930 it was said Professor Wu Chung-chien, dean of the department of Education in Minkuo University, had found records showing Li was born in 1677 and that Imperial Chinese Government congratulated him on his 150th and 200th birthdays.
A correspondent of The New York Times wrote in 1928 that many of the oldest men in Li’s neighborhood asserted their grandfathers knew him as boys and that he was then a grown man.
According to the generally accepted tales told in his province. Li was able to read and write as a child, and by his tenth birthday had traveled in Kansu, Shansi, Tibet, Annam, Siam and Manchuria gathering herbs. For the first hundred years he continued at this occupation. Then he switched to selling herbs gathered by others.
Wu Pei-fu, the warlord, took Li into his house to learn the secret of living to 250. Another pupil said Li told him to “keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.”
According to one version of Li’s married life he had buried away twenty-three wives and was living with his twenty-fourth, a woman of ’60.’ Another account, which in 1928 credited him with 180 living descendents, comprising eleven generations, recorded only fourteen marriages. This second authority said his eyesight was good; also, that the finger nails of his right hand were very long, and “long” for a Chinese might mean longer than any finger nails ever dreamed of in the United States.
One statement of The Times correspondent which probably caused skeptical readers to believe Li was born more recently than 1677, was that “many who have seen him recently declare that his facial appearance is no different from that of persons two centuries his junior.”