EPISODE XXIX: THE GOOD-LUCK MAN

219 BCE. The Chinese ship bobbed up and down in the soft rolling waves of the sea as alchemist Xu Fu gazed out at the horizon. He had been selected because of his skills to find an elixir and he had been looking for now for some time. His fleet had been sailing for several months in search of a place thought to be the sole location of great unknown herbs and fruits …and knowledge of The Immortals.

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Xu’s Emperor, was obsessed his immortality, he believed that there was a great Island, coveted in Chinese legends, that was the home to gods that subsisted like that of mortal men. That they , like him needed to consume food to maintain their power and strength, but what where they subsisting on? What was their secret…? Xu would sail for many months in search of this mystical place where eight immortals were said to dwell, however whether his ships found this place or not will never be know, as neither Xu nor any other survivors of this journey would again return to China. They were ironically lost for all eternity in search of eternal life.

The search for an elixir of life is common across mythologies around the world throughout history, with many stories claiming the type extreme longevity found only amongst those between gods and men. However some stories are more compelling than others. Allegedly born in 1677, the infamous Li Ching Yuen was one such extraordinary man, Who’s life quit possibly extended for over 250 years. His extreme longevity attributed to many simple things that quite possibly have roots in the legends of immortality found throughout the Ancient East, and with links to the quests of numerous emperors of Ancient China.

 Li Ching-Yuen pictured here in 1927 holding one of his potent herbs.

Li Ching-Yuen pictured here in 1927 holding one of his potent herbs.

Li was borne during the Qing empire, the fourth largest recorded in world history, which stretched from the 1640’s until the revolution of 1912 saw the birth of the Republic of China. Li spent his youth in the highlands of inland China in the province of Sichuan, where he learned to read and write at a very early age. Adolescent Li was described as an exceptionally bright learner and a motivated herb collector, an area in which he started a career by the age of 10 according to some sources. Guided by elders, Li found himself blossoming with the knowledge of native Chinese plants that contained amazing properties that Li took advantage of for the whole of his life, eating nothing but berries, mushrooms, herbs and rice wine. But that’s not all…

Li had what one could call keys to longevity: when asked what his secret was, Li always replied: “Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.”

This of course could be interpreted as an analogy for some of the ‘best’ qualities in each animal denoted, it seems to imply certainty and decisiveness in action, even something as simple as walking! Li must have had a sense of humour, as each animal too is not exactly something that humans would traditionally look up to - the majority indeed would perhaps overlook - but Li seems to see the perfection and value of each. Indeed, the first, keep a quiet heart, implies a sense of stillness, tranquillity, and serenity in ones heart. Li highly recommended meditation to quiet the heart, and practiced the art for several hours a day. Li practiced traditional Chinese arts of Qigong and Tai Chi, which centre on a series of breathing techniques and accompanying flow movements and exercises. According to Huffington Post,

The health benefits from Qigong and Tai Chi comes about both by supporting the body's natural tendency to return to balance and equilibrium and also gently yet profoundly creating strength, flexibility and balance in the muscles and joints through gentle flowing movements. Qigong is an ancient Chinese health care system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention to open blockages in the body based on the same meridian system used in acupuncture. (huffingtonpost.com)

One could argue that a heightened awareness or tuning into one’s own body can lead to an inner sense of calm, peace, and knowing of the things that disrupt inner stillness. But Li had other keys to longevity, mainly stemming from his vast knowledge of native herbs and plants of the Snow Mountains in Sichuan. Li would gather herbs high up in the mountains, mixing them into special tinctures using rice wine. Goji berries, He Shou Wu among others provided Li with the necessary sustenance to live to the ripe age of 196, or in some accounts, 256! The important aspect of all these herbs and berries was the profound nutrient benefits that come from these designated ‘superfoods’ that Li consumed on a daily basis, unimpeded by the infinite choice of our consumer society today. Many of these ingredients contained anti-oxidant agents known as phytochemicals which help eliminate free radicals and the devastating domino effect they have on the body. Other benefits are related to brain health, regulating blood pressure, immune system and metabolism. Interestingly, rice wine contains lactic acid, making it a pro-biotic and and notable aid to gut health. The list goes on and on, and I would continue - but this is getting to sound frighteningly close to an episode of wacky Dr. Oz.

 He Shou Wu root

He Shou Wu root

Overall, it appears as if Li’s Keys to Longevity were centred on concepts of harmony, awareness and a higher understanding of the metaphysical underpinnings of the self and the body/soul. Li led a long, full life, becoming a consultant of the Chinese Army at the age of 51, retiring back to the Snow Mountains after over 20 years of service. Li’s time in the military provides an important source of records for his great age, as the Chinese government actually sending congratulations for his 150th birthday in 1827, and for his 200th in 1877. Whether or not Li actually lived to be 256 years old, it does appear there was something to his philosophy on life and longevity. on his deathbed, Li professed: “I have done all that I have to do in this world.”

What do you think about Li Ching-Yuen’s story? Reach out to us at Intotheportalmailbox@gmail.com or comment below, we’d love to hear from you!
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Written by Amber Rae Bouchard

Andrew McKay