Question: How Long Can a Human Being Live? What does Chinese Medicine say about living longer?

Answer: There is no objective answer to this question and I emphasize here that longevity is not the goal. Balance is the goal, longevity may be a fortunate side-effect. The question is how much is determined by your genes and how much by the way we choose to live. Nature vs nurture. While there is no objective answer to this question, what we choose to believe in influences our lifestyle choices and ultimately affects our life story.

For example, if you believe longevity is 70% genes, you may be less likely to make significant changes in your lifestyle. If you believe, it is 70% lifestyle, you maybe more motivated to make lifestyle changes. In my experience, Chinese Medicine is more lifestyle-orientated, and believes lifestyle choice is a key determining factor to health and longevity. Modern biomedicine tends to be more DNA-orientated and believes your genes are the primary influence in determining your health and longevity.

Please make up your own mind, but here are a few summaries of how Chinese Medicine and Western science view longevity.:

Human Life Expectancy

All things that are born, must die. However, how long do they live?

A cat can live as long as 10-years, a dog 18-years, an ox 30-years, a horse 40-years, and elephant 150 years, a turtle 300-years and a whale 400-years. Then how long can man live?

This is a question that is as old as human beings themselves. There is direct evidence and experience and then there are numerous calculation methods proposed to determine the upper limit to life expectancy for man and animals.

The Growth Period

The life expectancy of mammals is generally five to seven times their growth period. The human growth period is 20-25 years. Calculated on this basis, the life expectancy of humans would be 100 to 175 years.

Wu Keqian, a Chinese physician during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) wrote in the preface of his book, Instructions on Health Building: “From the time he is born, man grows fully by the age of 25. In proportion to the length of life of animals, man should live as long as 124 years or 200 years.”

Sexual Maturity

The upper limit of life expectancy for mammals is generally 8-10 times their sexual maturity period. The human sexual maturity period is generally 14-15 years. Calculated on this basis, the life expectancy would be 112 to 150 years.

Cell Division

Calculating by the number of times that the cells divide, an American cytologist proposed a law of the division and proliferation of human embryo fibers cells. The method involves calculating human life expectancy based on the number of times the cells divide. The pulmonary fibre cells of the chicken are divided 13-35 times and its life expectancy is 30 years. The pulmonary fibre cells of the sea turtle are divided 72-114 times and its life expectancy is 300 years. The average cycle of the pulmonary fibre cells division of all animals is 2.4 years. The pulmonary fibre cells of human beings divide approximately 50 times. This method suggests the highest life expectancy limit of human beings should be around 120 years.

Gestation Period

Studying the gestation period for mammals, Ermonsky, a Soviet biologist, said there is a variation coefficient of embryo development and life expectancy. The human gestation period is 266 days. He calculated the variation coefficient to be 15.15. When this figure is multiplied by 15.15, it equals 11 years. When multiplied by 15.15 again, it is 167 years. Ermonsky believed 167 years is the upper limit of life expectancy for human beings.

Organ & Tissue Life

There have been numerous experiments on human organs and tissues which show they can live many years outside the human body. Many researchers believe the tissues and organs of human beings can work for at least 140-150 years.

Chinese Literary Evidence

There are many records of long life in China. Here are a selection:

The Incidents in the Reign of Kaiyuan (713-742) in the Tang Dynasty says: “Yu Bolong in Taiyuan was still full of vigor when at the age of 128. His son had died, but his two grandsons or 70 and 80 years old lived with him.”

The Annals of Dong Wei says: “Yang Xiaju is 81 years old, but his uncles were all over 120 years of age. We also saw his grandfather, he called himself Mr Song, and he is 195 years old.”

Collection of Bibliographical Sketches of Incidents records: “In Nanjing is the Ju River, and its water is sweet and fragrant. More than 10 families have drunk the water and all have lived a long life, some to the age of 120-130 years.

History of the Zhou Dynasty records: “In the family of Wang Renyu in the Five Dynasties, a grandmother lived more than 200 years.”

The records also show many famous characters from Chinese history reported with long life: Lao Zi lived 160 years, Huang Di (Yellow Emperor) 110 years, Emperor Yao 118 years, Emperor Shun 110 years, Hui Zhao, a high-ranking monk in the Five Dynasties, 290 years. Sun Is Miao, a famous physician in the Tang Dynasty 101 years. Zhen Quan 103 years, Li Zhishuang 136 years.

More recently from the Qing dynasty: Sun Jianlong from Yaojiang 159 years and Liang Lianxiang in Guangxi 142 years.

There are many more records showing long life in ancient China and it is difficult to prove fact from fiction.

The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon 黄帝内经 Huángdì Nèijīng

The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon is an ancient Chinese medical text that has been treated as the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese Medicine for more than two millennia. The work is composed of two texts each of eighty-one chapters or treatises in a question-and-answer format between the mythical Yellow Emperor and six of his equally legendary ministers.

During his reign, Huang Di had discussions concerning medicine, health, lifestyle, nutrition, Taoist cosmology with his ministers, including Qi Bo, and others. Their first conversation began with Huang Di asking, “I’ve heard that in the days of old everyone lived one hundred years without showing the usual signs of aging. In our time, however, people age prematurely, living only fifty years. Is this due to a change in the environment, or is it because people have lost the correct way of life?”

Qi Bo replied, “In the past, people practiced the Tao, the Way of Life. They understood the principle of balance as represented by the transformations of the energies of the universe. They formulated exercises to promote energy flow to harmonize themselves with the universe. They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired at regular hours, avoided over-stressing their bodies and minds, and refrained from overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind; thus, it is not surprising that they lived over one hundred years.”

“These days, people have changed their way of life. They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their jing – the body’s essence that is stored in the Kidneys – and deplete their qi. They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement… click here for the first chapter – Universal Truth

Well, I hope that this gives you an idea of the diversity of viewpoints and science around longevity.  But as a wellness consultant, let me just say again that longevity alone is not he goal.  Regardless of your genetic inheritance, it’s the wellness life-style choices that give you the best chance of greater health, productivity and fulfillment. Choose a healthy life and as an added benefit, more years, and I mean good years!


Alex Tan L.AC is a licensed Acupuncturist.  After completing his degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Alex lived and practiced Chinese Medicine for 10-years in Beijing, China.  A native-born Australian, the son of his Australian mother and Chinese father, Alex’s bi-cultural heritage helps him skillfully bridge Eastern and Western health perspectives.  He believes the true power of Chinese medicine lies in a balanced approach towards prevention and treatment. Rooted in Chinese Medicine observation based theory & methodology over millenniums, Alex’s talent lies in delivering these Eastern healing modalities to his modern Western clients. For more about Alex click here

Alex runs a clinic in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona. Alex welcomes comments and questions to his articles. To schedule an appointment in person or telco-appointment click here