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Longevity Medicine for Royals and Regular Folk

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Winter Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(4) page(s): 9 and 34

Historians know that Emperor Qian Long (1711 - 1799 CE) lived past seventy. He was one of the seven emperors who did live a long life. He lived longer than any of the other emperors in Chinese history and was honored with a special birthday seal on his 80th birthday. It is illustrated here.

How he lived that long was of interest to all royals and regular folk; they all would love that answer. Many believed his long life was because of all the herbal medicines he took. There is a picture of bottled Gui Ling Ji, a daily alcoholic beverage said to be a tonic; he may have taken it or something like it one or more times each day. Other pictures are the Chinese name of this tonic, and the wine with the same name which he may have consumed, too.

We did locate several bottles on the web, each with a different label and a different alcoholic content. The name of these beverages mean 'enabling one to live as long as a turtle.' Was his long life due to either beverage? Which one, if either, contributed to his sixty-year reign? One or more of these beverages were consumed by any one of the eighteen generations of Chinese Emperors, particularly those who believed them anti-ageing elixirs.

Do not run off to visit any liquor store, seems they are not available in the United States, or so say the folks at Mark's Wine & Spirits Inc at 53 Mott Street in Manhattan. We tried several other liquor stores, also to no avail. At Mark's, the owner told us to go to China to purchase the liquor or the wine. We may need to check that out on our next trip.

Qian Long's life and his long reign are often studied. So are his six inspection tours of the south, his many writings during these excursions, and all the notes and discourses he wrote in the palace; and everything written about him. Oft quoted in Jin Liang's Memoirs for Qing Dynasty Emperors, is the then British Ambassador to China Earl Macartnoy (1737 - 1806), who said that this octogenarian emperor looks like a man of sixty.

Some say his long life and the fact he was rarely ill might be his austere behavior. For example, when eating dinner and taking tea, this man only took two main meals each day. In addition, he had many snacks each day. Did these impact this long life?

The oldest American male who died this past April 2011 at age one hundred and fourteen also only ate two meals every day. That, and both believed in lots of work. We do know that Emperor Qian Long had an early morning portion of bird's nest soup each and every day before his audiences. Did this soup aid his living for so many years? Or was it his frequent bathing in hot springs that helped him live as long as he did?

Qian Long regularly drank one or more of the pictured tonics and four other herbals. Today, many people consume herbals with turtle components. Some drink others without turtle or tortoise as an ingredient. Gui Ling is touted as good for one's qi and good for the kidneys. Gui Ling Jiu is called a tonic wine, but the Chinese do not differentiate alcoholic beverages based on alcohol content. Traditional medical practitioners tell me that either of these drinks make one feel warm all over. They say they are beneficial for the elderly, but can not guarantee the emperor drank them.

Either one is held in great esteem by China's elite. Is it because they were endorsed by Chairman Mao or consumed by Qian Long? Little is reported about what age Qian Long first consumed any tonic herbal. Was it before this fourth son of Emperor Yong Zheng's accession to the throne; and is that important?

We are told that the tonic he imbibed daily is warm in nature and makes one feel warm shortly after consuming it. Many we spoke to said these herbals were the secret of his long life. Quite a few Chinese elderly take some or all of them every day, some do so twice or three times a day. Many in the royal family took these same herbals; do you? We found a Chinese prescription for the gui ling ji herbal. It is the item in blue.

Do you know that a 'tortoise-age placenta pill' and this now-tortoise-named wine are called a longevity combo? Are they so-named because of the tortoise's mythical life-span said to be ten thousand years. As gui ling translates to 'tortoise age and the word ji in this instance means to 'assemble,' then can we assume it symbolizes the gathering of the best herbs for vitality and long life.

We once read that this tonic is best taken two hours before breakfast; and we do know this long-living emperor rose daily at or before four each morning. Considered one of China's four national protected prescriptions, this tonic is believed nourishing for the brain, good for ending impotence, something to strengthen the immune system, and of value as an anti-aging medicine. Said to be rich in zinc and eighteen essential amino acids, pills sold under this name also include ginseng, Fructus lychii, and hippocampus, and sixteen other ingredients. Many elderly say that not a day should pass without taking one or more of these award-winning tonics.

People have published the imperial physician's prescription, that is the one in the boxed area, but is it the one taken by Emperor Qian Long? Some swear that it surely is. In fact, that recipe is from an earlier emperor. The bottle of liquor shown offers no guarantee it is the one Qian Long ingested.

We hope the seal made for Qian Long's eightieth birthday can be used when you celebrate your eightieth; may it bring you the requisite long life!

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