Hoaxes & Rumors

Did the world’s oldest man live to be 256 years old?

Did the world’s oldest man live to be 256 years old?

Press reports in 1933 claimed that a Chinese man named Li Ching-Yuen had died at the age of either 197 or 256. Is this story real or fake?

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The claim that this man reached the age of 256 (or 197) is believed to be false.

The traditional story of Li Ching-Yuen holds that he was born in 1677 or 1736 (he claimed the latter) and died in 1933, making him either 197 or 256 years old at the time of his death. Late in the man’s life, the public grew increasingly interested in his extraordinary lifespan. He reportedly had 23 wives and over 200 children. His interest included martial arts and herbalism. His secret to a long life was to “Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, sleep like a dog.”

Li-ching-Yuen

Early Reports

A few years before Li Ching-Yuen’s death, the following news article appeared in the Pittsburgh Press on October 2, 1929.

Man, 252 Years Old, Found Residing in Rural China
Reported to Have Discovered Fountain of Youth – Has Outlived 23 Wives.

by D.C. Bess
United Press Staff Writer

Peiping, Oct 2 – The world’s oldest man, who, if his given age is correct, would antedate the American republic by almost a century, has been found in Kaihsien, a town in Southern Szechwan province, in the opinion of Professor Wu Chung-Chieh, dean of the department of education at Minkuo University here.

The man in question is Li Ching-Yung. Dynastic records verify to the professor’s satisfaction that Li is now in his two hundred and fifty-second year, or more than one-fourth as old as Methuselah, the old man of the Bible who lived 969 years.

The professor is interested especially in Li because he is reported to have found a “fountain of youth” in the shape of medicinal plants growing on the hills of Yunnan and Kweichow. Dr. Wu has gone to Szechwan province to teach and is urging the patriarch to visit Peiping, so that the secret of his longevity can be investigated.

Professor Wu was told that Li has survived 23 wives, and is now living with his twenty-fourth, who is a mere 60 years of age.

Li Ching-Yun, according to professor…. has records to show he was born in 1677, during the reign of the emperor Kang Hai, the second emperor of the Manchu dynasty. He was a druggist in his youth, and during his research for medicinal plants on the mountains of Yunnan, discovered the herbs which have so remarkably prolonged his life.

When Li attained the age of 100 years, in 1777, his “old age” was considered remarkable, and the provincial authorities petitioned the imperial government for an appropriate recognition. The government at Peking consented, and it is declared the order for this action is contained in the dynastic records.

But Li kept on living, the reports go, and astonished his neighborhood by reaching his two hundredth year. The imperial government was surprised to get a petition urging further recognition and, according to Professor Wu, verified the old man’s great age in the records.

Now the residents of Kaisien report Li seems well on his way to his three hundredth year without showing signs of senility. Last spring, Gen. Yang Sen, the leading militarist in Szechwan, invited Li to a banquet in his honor.

Professor Wu understands that Li speaks readily concerning events in his life, and has no trouble recalling incidents which occurred more than 150 years ago.

The following month, in a blurb posted in the The Reading Eagle on November 21, 1929, the man’s age was again reported. While the story touches on the same details as reported the prior month, the writer concluded that evidence was lacking. “The story is vouched for as true by university officials, but a little more corroboration would be helpful.”

In 1933 an obituary was published in the New York Times. It read, in part:

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 Chung-king 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.

In 1977, the man’s age was mentioned in an “Ask Andy” column. When asked how old the world’s oldest man was, the columnist wrote, “There appears to be a wide stretch of area between old age information reported to be true and information that can actually be documented and proven correct. For example, there was a report of Peking, China, in 1933 reporting the death of a man who was 256 years of age. There were people to swear that this was his true age, but no absolute proof could be found.”

A 2011 report entitled “Typologies of Extreme Longevity Myths” refers to the claim of 256 years “fantastical.” It also pointed out that the number chosen was a multiple of 8, which is considered good luck in China.

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Despite cultural and mythological tales of humans living to extreme ages, or such concepts as the fountain of youth, the oldest verified age which a human has reached is 122, by that of Jean Calment. The oldest verified age reached by a man was 116 in the case of Jiroemon Kimura.

Explanations

The most common theory to explain this man’s claim to such extreme age is that he may have assumed the identity of an older family member or perhaps someone of the same name.

Assuming the identity of an older family member or someone of the same name has been suggested in the case of Shigechiyo Izumi, a Japanese man who originally convinced Guinness World Records that he had reached the age of 120. His “verified” age was later retracted and it was speculated that Izumi had assumed the identity of a much older brother.

An estimated 108 billion humans have ever lived, and there is currently no evidence that anyone has ever reached half the age of 256 reportedly achieved by this man.

It is doubtful that Li’s age will ever be verified (or refuted) to the satisfaction of modern researchers, as the information needed for such verification – such as a birth record – simply doesn’t exist.

Sources

  • How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth? (Carl Haub, Population Reference Bureau: October 2011)
  • An Old Timer Sure Enough (The Reading Eagle. November 21, 1929)
  •  Li Ching-Yun Dead; Gave His Age as 197 (The New York Times. May 6, 1933)
  • Age claims don’t hold up: Ask Andy (Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon: March 18, 1977)
  • Oldest People (Wikipedia)

Updated May 14, 2016
Originally published July 2013

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  • Mace Caesar

    What does that prove?

  • Mace Caesar

    On the estimated number of people to have ever lived, from the souce: “Any such exercise can be only a highly speculative enterprise, to be
    undertaken with far less seriousness than most demographic inquiries.”

  • John Baker

    The Bible says a lot of things, most of which are not true.

    • Zantetsu

      The Bible is humanities oldest history book, most things written in it we are incapable of confirming what is true, but it is still our oldest source of information.

    • BillyBoy49

      John, the bible doesn’t say anything. However” Its is written that” etc. I do believe the first book of genesis is titled ” The First Book of Moses”

  • Donell West

    I challenge anyone to find graves of any person in the bible. You can find the Graves of emperors of Rome who existed during that time, yet not one disciple, Mary, Jacob, or Jesus. Then look at all Pharaoh’s that existed during and before Jesus. With story’s the exact same as Jesus. Even the holy trinity. Kemet.

    • John

      If you did very little research you would see that they have found many graves. The tomb of Jesus, go to Israel ask any citizen they will tell you where it is. Also Caiaphas,Tomb of the Patriarchs, Caesar Augustus, Joseph, David and Solomon, Cyrus the Great, Darius-I the Great, and many more. Sometimes doing some research before talking is good and it doesn’t hurt.

      • Donell West

        How can you find the tomb of Jesus when the first man to ever claim that name was a Ptolemy after Alexander the Greek conquered part of North Africa, you have been fooled. N I do research. Abraham said to be one of the first Jews or Hebrews as dumb people call a race. His father was a king of cush, that’s like saying my dad is black but I’m Greek. They have found resting locations. Never the actual casket or body. Now you can say they found bodies of people after the Bible was written, but never of the Bible. Do your research, stop being fooled. Wonder why they actually expose the bodies of kings of Africa, but never those of the Bible, because there aren’t any.

        • John

          Well, everything I said you clearly ignored. Then again that’s what atheists do. They considerate on one mindset and ignore everything everyone else say.

          So yes do some research facts and locations and bodies are right there if you actually want to find it you will.

          Even the Vatican church is built on the tomb of St. Peter and yes they do have all the evidence and Peters bones.

          All those names I wrote in my original comment go do some research and stop arguing without having knowledge in the field. I’m sure it’s an honest mistake but it makes you look uneducated.

          Thanks

        • Mace Caesar

          You mention Alexander The Great as if he really existed. Yet, the location of his tomb remains an utter mystery. Obviously he is a myth, then. You’re hilarious. And I’m not even a Christian, you’re just one of THOSE athiests.

          • Donell West

            Your dumb. You don’t read. N if athiest means believing my own culture. Your correct, I am one. Before any religion my ancestors was already up n running doing well and teaching others.

  • Sadalmelik

    It’s possible.

    • Mace Caesar

      How? Tell me how it is possible. Look up telomeres and then tell me how it is possible.

  • Sadalmelik

    The human being can live past 250+ years. I don’t believe, I know.

  • Gaby Gagnon

    You are insane Tracey. Let the adults talk in the real world and go to bed, return to your wonderland world…

  • Richard Wheeler

    Our treasurer, in Australia, believes that in time, we will live until we are 150 years old!
    Therefore, we need to work longer to build up our superannuation to fund our pension.

    • Vaskor Basak

      Well, in the UK, the pensionable age has already increased from 65 to 67.

  • Steven Wang

    The oldest man to have ever lived was 116 years old- the end!

    • Alaskan King

      No actually a French lady lived to 122.

      • Stacey Edlin

        He did say man so technically he is correct!

  • NMLB

    Take note that there’s a big difference on how we count our days now compared to how they do it back in the days. So it may be false to us but true to them.

    • waffles

      Perhaps, but not necessarily in this case, as this was less than 100 years ago.

    • Mace Caesar

      What are you even talking about? “In ancient China, the length of solar year was estimated, and balanced. The solar year of Taichu calendar is 365 and 385/1539 days. The solar year of Shoushi calendar is 365 and 97/400 days, which is the same as the Gregorian calendar.” today we use 365.2422 days per year. A day ends and begins on the exact middle point between dusk and dawn, or true midnight. the difference is exceedingly minimal, in the Shoushi calender one day over 3000 years.

  • Simon

    Irony; the only thing you’re doing right at the moment.

  • waffles

    We are excited to hear that you may be able to cite “many sources” which “verify” the man’s age.

    Unfortunately, you did not read the statement completely. It states that it is “believed” to be false, and later that “It is doubtful that Li’s age will ever be verified to the satisfaction of modern researchers.”

    Regarding laziness, the Pittsburgh Press article did not exist on the internet until we manually transcribed it.

    We excitedly await your many sources of verification.

  • Timothy Campbell

    Some of my DNA is over a billion years old.

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