The other day I quite randomly came upon the story of Li Ching-Yuen, the bagua master that reportedly lived around 250 years. This from Wikipedia, or the NY Times Obituary:
He began gathering herbs in the mountain ranges at the age of ten, and also began learning of longevity methods, surviving on a diet of herbs and rice wine. He lived this way for the first 100 years of his life. In 1749, when he was 71 years old, he moved to Kai Xian to join the Chinese army as a teacher of the martial arts and as a tactical advisor.
One of his disciples, the Taiji Quan Master Da Liu told of Master Li’s story: at 130 years old Master Li encountered an older hermit, over 500 years old, in the mountains who taught him Baguazhang and a set of Qigong with breathing instructions, movements training coordinated with specific sounds, and dietary recommendations. 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.”
In 1927, Li Ching Yuen was invited by General Yang Sen to visit him in Wan Xian, Szechuan. The general was fascinated by his youthfulness, strength and prowess in spite of his advanced age. His famous portrait was photographed there. Returning home, he died a year later, some say of natural causes; others claim that he told friends that “I have done all I have to do in this world. I will now go home.”
After Li’s death, General Yang Sen investigated the truth about his claimed background and age. He wrote a report that was later published. In 1933, people interviewed from his home province remembered seeing him when they were children, and that he hadn’t aged much during their lifetime. Others reported that he had been friends with their grandfathers.
I have studied Taoist immortal techniques and spent many years dabbling with Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, so I am not unfamiliar with the myths surrounding such “ancient sages,” but most of the other reports I had read were either clearly falsified or were intentionally vague, saying things like “he looked like a man of seventy though he lived for centuries.” But this one is a bit of a head-scratcher. It is true that extreme claims call for extreme evidence, and this is probably in one way or another faked. But can we prove it?
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