Classic Chinese Torture Methods (and their cute names)

From the strange reign of Empress Wu Zetian (690-705):

  • “Inviting the Gentleman into the Jug” – Place the victim in a large vat, and heat it to roasting temperature with fires around its base.
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  • “The Phoenix Suns Her Wings” – Hang the prisoner by his arms and legs from a beam, and spin him.
  • “The Fairy Maid Presents Fruits” – Make the victim kneel, with a heavy rack around his neck. Weight it down further with large tiles.
  • “The Jade Maiden Mounts The Stairs” – Force the victim to stand on a high board with a rack around his neck. Pull the rack back until he keeps his balance only through great strain on his legs.
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  • “The Brain Hoop” – Loop a rope around his head, and tighten by placing a stick inside the loop and twisting it.

Should none of these do the trick, resort to The Five Penalties – Cut the victim’s nose off, then his or her limbs, after which beat him or her to death. Then decapitate them, chop them into mincemeat, and display the remains in the public marketplace.

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As reported in Sidney Shapiro‘s “The Law and Lore of China’s Criminal Justice”

Historical Wonders /

5 Responses to Classic Chinese Torture Methods (and their cute names)

  1. Sam Reeves says:

    Try as I might, I’ve never been able to actually find any reference to the infamous ‘Chinese water torture’ where the water drips on the persons forehead for days and eventually drives them insane. I believe it must be one of those western inventions that never really actually existed but was ascribed to the Chinese.

    I’m wondering the the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ had a more interesting Chinese name, like ‘the jade flute sounds a melody’. Only the Chinese could give a poetic name to a form of torture. Sigh

  2. Dean Pickles says:

    I’d never given it any thought, but that makes perfect sense that — with a name like that — it wouldn’t be Chinese at all. (Like Chinese whispers or Chinese rope burn?) The ever-reliable and surely-fact-checked Wikipedia has a fascinating entry on it:

    This form of torture was first described under a different name by Hippolytus de Marsiliis in Italy in the 15th or 16th century…. The term “Chinese water torture” may have arisen from Harry Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell (a feat of escapology introduced in Berlin at Circus Busch September 13, 1910; the escape entailed Houdini being bound and suspended upside-down in a locked glass and steel cabinet full to overflowing with water, from which he escaped), together with the Fu Manchu stories of Sax Rohmer that were popular in the 1930s (in which the evil Fu Manchu subjected his victims to various ingenious tortures, such as the wire jacket).

    Death by 1000 Cuts — 千刀万剐 — is wonderful. My unassisted translation skills are horrid, but assuming this is directly: “1000 knives, a million cuts.” Absolutely gorgeous! And scathing, too. ;P

    Thanks for the compliments on the 小矮人公园 piece!!!

    • khang says:

      I heard a former North Vietnam Sapper
      said he had used the Chinese Water Torture on South Vietnam personnels
      You need a bottle or something similar, fill it with water, pierce a tiny hole on it, and put it about 20 cm over the head of the prisoner. The target here is the TOP of your head.
      Google Image for 百会穴:×165/20130428060910_xYrFUCMBui.jpg

      According to Chinese medicine(I know a tiny bit), that spot is 百会穴 , where energy converges(“Hundred qi-flows converging”). This spot is also used to heal mental problems, this is also the place where ghosts entering the mind of haunted/ obsessed people.
      He said that after about 20 to 30 mins, each drop of water becomes something like a hammer blowing on the head of victim. And it leaves no physical evidence, unlike the very unpopular americanized South Vietnamese Armed Force.

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  4. Netdost says:

    these are not cut, the names are weird and crazy.. i would more scared with pronouncements like these than the plain simple death sentence

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