Li Ching-Yuen or Li Ching-Yun (traditional Chinese: 李清雲; pinyin: Lǐ Qīngyún; died May 6, 1933) was a Chinese herbalist, martial artist and tactical advisor. He claimed to be born in 1736, while disputed records suggest 1677. Both alleged lifespans of 197 and 256 years far exceed the longest confirmed lifespan of 122 years and 164 days after the older French woman Jeanne Calment.
Li Ching-Yuen was probally born in 1677 in Qi Jiang Xian, Szechuan province. By his own account, he was born in 1736. However, in 1930, Professor Wu Chung-chieh of the University of Chengdu discovered Imperial Chinese government records from 1827, congratulating one 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.
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.
Li’s obituary was printed in The New York Times, Time Magazine, and other publications. The Time magazine article stated that in 1930 Professor Wu Chung-chieh, from Chengdu University, found records from the Chinese Imperial Government congratulating Li Ching Yuen in his 150th birthday in 1827.
He worked as an herbalist, promoting the use of wild reishi, goji berry, wild ginseng, he shou wu and gotu kola along with other Chinese herbs. Li had also supposedly produced over 200 descendents during his life span, surviving 23 wives.