Still, I am unnerved by the revelation in China Daily that the Bee Taoist is only 76. (I am unnerved that I might think anyone is "only 76".) I would have put him a decade beyond than that. And once, while strolling in a park on the morning of my arrival in Beijing, two women with a little one in a stroller proudly pointed to the bent old ye ye following with a walker. "He is 80!" I would have sworn he was 90 or even pushing 100, although 80 is a respectable age in China.
Then it occurred to me. There is a time warp in China, and it was caused by Mao Zedong. I think Baby Boomers and their parents -- that is to say, everyone still alive and born before 1966 -- have actually physically aged 10 years, if not chronologically. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution cost all those folks decades of their youth, like a debit account; in the effort to move China ahead, the effect was just to make everyone appear older than they really are.
In contrast, it seems that all those coming of age or born post-Mao, after 1976, actually seem younger than their chronological age. I was surprised that the master who taught me Five Animals was 45; he looked mid-30s. Other "young people" well into their 30s seemed to me to be just coming out of their 20s. I credit the Taoist practices for longevity and immortality for the physical youth of the masters and teachers in the mountains; but I suppose the economic revolution since Deng Xiao Ping has served to keep the beneficiary generation young. (I see that in the U.S. as well...the narcissism of the "Me Generation" and material comforts keep one from aging as expected, or as demonstrated by the generation who lived through the Great Depression and the stifling '50s. And then there's cigarettes.)
In the Chinese TV serial drama I just completed, The Shadow of Empress Wu, which featured the Five Animals as a plot point about health, there is a curious bit of philosophy quoted, twice.
"People in their 60s count down their death by years; people in their 70s count down their death by months; people in their 80s will die without any sign." Anything after that is considered immortality. In his weird way, I guess Mao--who was preoccupied with his own longevity-- just pushed people closer to immortality.