Throwback Thursday: The myth of Luo Meizhen

By That's, February 19, 2015

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For this week's Throwback Thursday we are turning the clock back to July 2013.

The following article, written by Ned Kelly, examines claims that Luo Meizhen is the oldest person to have ever lived (as far as anyone knows anyway).

During Luo's life these claims were surrounded in uncertainty and outside China they never gained much traction. 

In the years since Luo has died little has changed. Many Chinese still argue she is the record holder for the world's oldest person, while most people outside the country view this claim with a hint of skepticism.

This was the timeworn face of Luo Meizhen of Bama County, Guangxi Province, who died last month at the ripe old age of 127 – or so the story goes. If true, that would make her the oldest person to have ever lived.

The claim is contested though. According to her hukou and identity card, Luo was born on July 9, 1885 (going by the Chinese lunar calendar). However, China did not have a reliable birth-certification system at the end of the 19th century, and both documents were only issued in recent decades.

Adding to the skepticism is the fact that the date would have made her 61 at the time of giving birth to her son.

Supporting Luo’s assertion, however, is the fact that residents of Bama have a reputation for longevity. Among a population of just 220,000, 81 are reputedly in triple digits and a further 226 have made it past 90.

The numbers have led to the county becoming the focus of studies from geriatricians nationwide.

Unless Guinness recognizes Luo, however, the official record will remain with Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who was born in 1875 and lived to 122 years, before finally biddingadieu in 1997. Calment also sold pencils to Vincent van Gogh when he came into her uncle’s shop 13 in 1888 – she found him to be “dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable.”

// This article first appeared on That's Beijing online on July 10, 2013. For more Throwback Thursdays click here. 

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