Ching-Yuen in 1927
Probably the most famous proponent and user of Gotu Kola (known in China as fo-ti-tieng) is the celebrated Chinese herbalist and Daoist master (Dao yin or internal health practices) Li Ching-Yuen, who survived twenty-three (23) wives and died on March 5, 1933 (as reported by the New York Times and London Times) at the age of 256 years. This was officially recorded and confirmed by the Chinese government, and aroused so much interest in France, that the government there established an experimental laboratory in Algeria to study Gotu Kola. The English government also provided a grant to a college research foundation in Colombo, Ceylon to study this herb.
Chinese General Yang Sen wrote a report about him, "A Factual Account of the 256 Year-Old Good-Luck Man.", where he described Li Ching Yuen's appearance: "He has good eyesight and a brisk stride; Li stands seven feet tall, has very long fingernails, and a ruddy complexion."
Born on 1677 in Chyi Jiang Hsie, Szechuan province and later moving to Kai Hsien, he joined the Chinese army of provincial CinC Yueh Jong Chyi at the age of 71 in 1748. In the army he was tactical advisor and teacher of the martial arts, though he spent most of his life in the mountain ranges gathering herbs and knowledge of longevity methods.
He claimed to have learned about longevity from another Daoist he met on the Emei Mountain in Sichuan province near the Tibetan border. This monk, according to Li, Ching-Yuen's story, was well over 300 years old, was as agile as a monkey, as strong as a tiger and as wise as a dragon. This ancient Daoist sage reputedly instructed Li, Ching-Yuen in his secret method of health nourishing martial art exercises based upon the wisdom of the Book of Changes (Yijing). Most likely this was a Daoist of the Long-Men sect who practiced a method of circle walking meditation combined with chanting and visualization. The art of Li, Ching-Yuen came to be known by the Li family as Jiulong Baguazhang (Nine Dragon Eight Diagram Palm).
In 1927 Li Ching-Yuen was invited to Wann Hsien, Szechuan by General Yang Sen who was fascinated by Li's remarkable youthfulness, strength and prowess in spite of his advanced age. The enclosed photograph was obtained there. After Li's death, the General investigated his background to determine the truth to his claimed background and age, which led to a report that was later published. Returning home, he died a year later, some say of natural causes, while others claim that he told friends, "I have done all I have to do in this world. I will now go home." With these words he lay down upon his couch and allowed his spirit to depart through sheer willpower.
People interviewed from his home province in 1933 remember seeing Li Ching-Yuen when they were small children, and that the master had not aged much during their lifetime. Others reported that he had been friends with their grandfathers. The truth of his long life died with Li Ching-Yuen and is one of those inscrutable Daoist mysteries that may never be solved.
An interesting sidelight to the above story was thrown upon the unique properties of fo-ti-tieng (Gotu Kola) by a 107 year old Indian sage named Nanddo Narian, who claimed that the herb provides the missing ingredient in a man's diet, without which, he can never control disease and decay. He found it to be, in practice, the finest of all herbal tonics and nutrients.
The results of the studies performed upon Gotu Kola by the French in Algeria revealed what appears to be a new vitamin not known in any other food or herb. It was described as the "youth vitamin X" that exerts a rejuvenating influence upon the ductless glands, the healthy functioning of which is, the means by which the brain and body are maintained for healthy activity.