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Thread: Also to be noted for their longevity: non-Greats who also lived to be very old.

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Default Also to be noted for their longevity: non-Greats who also lived to be very old.

    During the pre-modern era in which wuxia fiction is set, the average life expectancy for people in China topped out in the forties. Anybody who made it into their mid or late-forties could qualify as "old" back then, and anybody who reached their sixties and seventies (let alone eighties or older) truly deserved to be congratulated on having lived an extraordinarily long life.

    In wuxia fiction, many great martial artists (such as most of the original Greats and Cheung 3 Fung) lived into their nineties and even crossed the century mark. In many of these cases, their longevity is directly attributable to their cultivation of advanced martial arts.

    Many non-Greats, however, also attained very old age (especially by pre-modern standards): all four of South Emperor Deun Chi Hing/1 Deng's four ministers/students were still around at the end of ROCH, and they were only a few years younger than their liege/teacher. Ying Goo was also of the same age group, and the last survivor of the Gong Nam 7 Freaks, Ohr Jen Ngok, might have been even a few years older than they. None of these people trained in elite martial arts like the Greats did, but achieved similar longevity.

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    Senior Member whiteskwirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Anybody who made it into their mid or late-forties could qualify as "old" back then, and anybody who reached their sixties and seventies (let alone eighties or older) truly deserved to be congratulated on having lived an extraordinarily long life.
    That's not true. During the Tang dynasty, the classification of old or elderly was at 60. It went like this: Classified as infants (huang 黃) at birth, children (xiao 小) at the age of four, adolescents (zhong 中) at the age of sixteen, adults (ding 丁) at twenty-one, and elderly (lao 老) at the age of sixty. (from "The Land Tenure System of Tang China" by Denis Twitchett, in T'oung Pao vol.85, pg. 355). 60 was also the year that a man could retire from the military.

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    Quote Originally Posted by whiteskwirl View Post
    That's not true. During the Tang dynasty, the classification of old or elderly was at 60. It went like this: Classified as infants (huang 黃) at birth, children (xiao 小) at the age of four, adolescents (zhong 中) at the age of sixteen, adults (ding 丁) at twenty-one, and elderly (lao 老) at the age of sixty. (from "The Land Tenure System of Tang China" by Denis Twitchett, in T'oung Pao vol.85, pg. 355). 60 was also the year that a man could retire from the military.
    But check this out: according to China's Geography: Globalization and the Dynamics of Political, Economic, and Social Change (Gregory Veeck, et. al., 2001): "Next, population growth and decline tended to parallel the cyclical pattern of dynastic rise and fall although not necessarily in the same sequence. Chao (1986, 30-31) estimated that under stable conditions, and with an average life expectancy of thirty, the historical population growth rates prior to the Ming Dynasty were probably between 0.5 and 1.0 per annum." (Veeck, 115)

    According to Veeck, at least, the life expectancy in China pre-Ming Dynasty was thirty, which is even more dire than my postulations. Twitchett's numbers sound a little too close to modern day lifespan numbers. It seems a bit unlikely that youths in China between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one were considered adolescents (which is a relatively modern concept anyway) when, at the age of fourteen, they were expected to be married and bearing children and, in some cases, heading the household.

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    Senior Member whiteskwirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    According to Veeck, at least, the life expectancy in China pre-Ming Dynasty was thirty, which is even more dire than my postulations. Twitchett's numbers sound a little too close to modern day lifespan numbers. It seems a bit unlikely that youths in China between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one were considered adolescents (which is a relatively modern concept anyway) when, at the age of fourteen, they were expected to be married and bearing children and, in some cases, heading the household.
    These aren't Twitchett's numbers, this is the official classifications the Tang state used. Also, I cited that wrong. The paper was actually written by Victor Cunrui Xiong, not Denis Twitchett. My fault on that one. But the sixty figure is also mentioned in Peter Lorge's new book Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century (2012). On pg. 98:

    Men were enrolled for fubing service at twenty-one and continued in this status to the age of sixty.
    and pg. 100:

    Assignment to infantry or cavalry was straightforward: “Generally the people become soldiers at 20 and retire at sixty. Those able to ride and shoot become cavalry, the remainder become infantry.”
    The source for that quote is the 新塘書, so the facts are pretty clear. Sixty was the official classification for "elderly" during the Tang, meaning it must not have been too rare for people to reach that age. And of course, there have been many officials throughout China's history who were that old or older.

    Another thing to keep in mind regarding average lifespans, is that infant mortality will skew the average. Those who die young are also counted with those who grow old, so I question how valuable an average is. A median figure would be much more useful.

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    Check this out, from Chinese Historical Microdemography, by Steven Harrell of the Joint Committee on Chinese Studies (U.S.):

    "Given what has been reported of elite family behavior in more recent times, it is surprising that so many sons in the Song elite were married 'late,' at twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, than that some were married young, at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. Accidental circumstances (especially being orphaned) would have delayed specific marriages. Beyond that, however, certain patterns can be noticed. Late marriage was not common in the Northeast or in the imperial family. Elite men in the Northeast during the Northern Song Dynasty were married early (median age nineteen), with a small age difference between spouses (2.3 years)." (Harrell, 37)

    Given that someone marrying at age 24 was considered "late," it seems logical to assume that the expectation was that life expectancy was not expected to extend for many decades beyond age 24. The earliest allowed marriages, according to this excerpt, is fourteen, which for many individuals, is just around the end of puberty and when the reproductive system becomes fully functional. The Tang Dynasty's own reported figures about life expectancy don't match up well with historical and archaeological data found by modern social scientists. Modern historical and archaeological data on Chinese demographics during the pre-Ming era suggest that attaining an age greater than forty in that time and place was truly a fortuitous turn for an individual.

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    We are talking about average age expectancy. Wulin figures are anything but average. I would not expect you to need Greats level martial arts to be able to live longer. Even an average martial arts practitioner is many times stronger and healthier than the average man with no training.

    Basic internal training prolongs life. QQJ advised Ghenghis that he could prolong his life with some breathing exercises. Considering that at a mediocre level of internal energy, it can be used to fight cold, slow the progress or expell of poisons and toxins, resist damage to body and organs, footsteps become light, breathing becomes light and deep. These guys will survive pretty long if left to natural causes. No one had cancer in the world of Jin Yong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Check this out, from Chinese Historical Microdemography, by Steven Harrell of the Joint Committee on Chinese Studies (U.S.):

    "Given what has been reported of elite family behavior in more recent times, it is surprising that so many sons in the Song elite were married 'late,' at twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, than that some were married young, at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. Accidental circumstances (especially being orphaned) would have delayed specific marriages. Beyond that, however, certain patterns can be noticed. Late marriage was not common in the Northeast or in the imperial family. Elite men in the Northeast during the Northern Song Dynasty were married early (median age nineteen), with a small age difference between spouses (2.3 years)." (Harrell, 37)

    Given that someone marrying at age 24 was considered "late," it seems logical to assume that the expectation was that life expectancy was not expected to extend for many decades beyond age 24. The earliest allowed marriages, according to this excerpt, is fourteen, which for many individuals, is just around the end of puberty and when the reproductive system becomes fully functional. The Tang Dynasty's own reported figures about life expectancy don't match up well with historical and archaeological data found by modern social scientists. Modern historical and archaeological data on Chinese demographics during the pre-Ming era suggest that attaining an age greater than forty in that time and place was truly a fortuitous turn for an individual.
    The reasons for marriage now aren't the same as the reasons for marriage then, I'd think. Having children in those times meant an extra helping hand in the fields, so it would make sense to have children (and as many as possible) as early as possible. A child now is a financial burden, while a child then was a financial incentive in many cases. It shouldn't serve as too reliable a predictor for age expectancy.

    I don't see any reason to delay marriage back then, when all your likely prospects are more or less known at a young age, and not much else going on.

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    Senior Member S Beaver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tape View Post
    The reasons for marriage now aren't the same as the reasons for marriage then, I'd think. Having children in those times meant an extra helping hand in the fields, so it would make sense to have children (and as many as possible) as early as possible. A child now is a financial burden, while a child then was a financial incentive in many cases. It shouldn't serve as too reliable a predictor for age expectancy.

    I don't see any reason to delay marriage back then, when all your likely prospects are more or less known at a young age, and not much else going on.
    Yep, marriage back in the days were mostly for child-bearing purposes (unless for political reasons), meaning if you were old enough to be fertile, you could be getting married and having kids. People married earlier back in the days because they can, not because they need to in order to compensate for shorter life expectancy. Female mortality may have been higher due to the risks and tolls of childbirth, but being married at an earlier age is not directly correlated with life expectancy. Of course, people back obviously did have shorter life expectancies compared to those of today, but you can't really use "marriage age" as major evidence to justify your argument.
    Last edited by S Beaver; 04-12-12 at 01:24 PM.
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    Senior Member Dirt's Avatar
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    You don't even have to go back to the Tang Dynasty. Up to the 1950's/1960's, someone who lived to be 70 was very old and very lucky. That's why the 70th birthday is celebrated with fanfare. There were certainly many people who did, but they were few and farther between than now.

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    There's also a difference between average life expectancy and 'old' age. Average life expectancy is skewed by a lot of children who died young, a higher rate of infant mortality, and disease/war/famine/etc that claimed lives well before they could reach 'old' age.

    These things tend to dramatically lower the life expectancy, but they end up doing very little to change the social definitions of the word "old", generally referring to when a person is no longer able bodied enough to continue service in the military or to continue load-bearing work. So yes, a person wasn't considered 'old' until they were 60-ish, even though many, if not most, people did not make it to that mark.

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