Lingchi & Other Chinese Torture Methods

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Surely we can all name a few Medieval torture methods, they are so well known. For some reason, many of China’s methods are not; that’s a shame as they really had a knack for torture!



Lingchi means “Death by a thousand cuts”, and it was a popular torture method from the 10th century until 1905 when the practice was finally outlawed. The executioner’s goal was to tie the victim to a stake and inflict as many cuts to his victim’s body as humanly possible while keeping them alive. If the condemned did not quickly bleed out, the purpose was being met. The cutting traditionally began with the breast; strips of flesh were removed from various spots on the body, then the hands and feet were cut off, and finally entire limbs were amputated while the victim was (hopefully) still alive. The final cuts were made to the throat and/or heart, often they would be decapitated. Customarily, even after the victim died, the executioner would continue to slice until the remains fit into a basket which one person could carry.

This poor guy, what a horrible way to go.

Considering “Lingchi” was still being practiced into the early twentieth century, there are actually photographs of it. I’ll add some, they include the public execution of Fou-tchou-li, a Mongolian guard who was killed on April 10th of 1905, in Beijing. Fou-tchou-li lost his life for murdering his master, a Mongolian prince. He was sentenced to Lingchi, just two weeks before it was deemed as illegal.


If the condemned did something truly awful, like treason, “Nine Familial Exterminations” may be enacted. This means several levels of the condemned’s family would be gathered up: children (if they were deemed old enough), siblings, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts along with all of their spouses, and the original offender of course. The entire family was considered guilty by association; they would all be tortured and killed. It must be stated that familial punishment was not terribly common, but it was one hell of a deterrent when it came to keeping people from committing treason.


Another Chinese favorite was flaying, though they were not the only ones to use this method. Using a very sharp blade, the executioner would slice off the person’s skin; they tried to carve it off in one big piece, and the skins were often then made into public showpieces.


During the Ming Dynasty, in 1396, to emperor Hongwu was in power. This man was paranoid and sadistic, a terrible combination for a ruler; he believed his palace staff to be guilty of “unauthorized liaisons” with outsiders. For this, the powerful man ordered 5,000 of his servant girls, along with the eunichs and those in charge of watching the palace gates, to be flayed. The emperor then demanded that their skins be stuffed with straw and displayed to scare off would be attackers. According to history, this type of thing was not uncharacteristic of this particular emperor or the one which succeeded him.

Flaying is a very slow death; most of these victims passed away days later from hypothermia, shock, blood loss, or infection. Though it is illegal nearly everywhere, flaying has happened in recent history. In the year 2000, government troops in Myanmar flayed every man and boy in a village called Karenni.

Bamboo Torture-

Bamboo is an crazy fast growing plant which can expand multiple feet in just a single day. It’s also super strong. So, the Chinese found a particularly gruesome way of using this to their advantage. They’d sharpen the tip of the growing bamboo into a point, and lay their victim, usually face up, just above the shoots. That’s all it took, they’d just sit back and wait for nature to do her job. The bamboo would grow and pierce through the body of the victim, killing them in a very painful way. It’s said that this method was often used on prisoners of war during WW2- whether that’s true or not is up for debate. Mythbusters actually tested the plausibility of this method, and they found that it could definitely work.

Water Torture-

This one is credited to the Chinese, but it’s not really theirs. Sure, they did use it, but it was most popular in Europe during the Spanish Inquisition.

Out of all the methods mentioned here, this one is the least horrific. Even so, it was torture, designed to literally drive the victim mad. A person would be restrained and drops of water would be slowly dripped onto their forehead. It’s said that this would, for sure, mentally bring the strongest among us to our knees. This torture dates back to the 15th or 16th century and was an excelent way of making people talk.

Wooden Torture Chair

Torture Chair

There are so many horrible torture methods used by the Chinese, we’ve barely even touched on them here today; Medieval Europe had nothing on them! If you get some extra time, maybe check them out. This is a torture chair equipped with 12 blades, and this was used from 1700-1900.

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