By Theofanis Fousekis,
Throughout the history of our world, there have been many examples where people fought against the ruling class or the opposite. One thing is certain though: don’t get on the bad side of either of them or they will decapitate you – just ask Marie Antoinette. Their goal? Social order and balance. A goal that is implanted via various methods such as but not limited to laws, social protocol and… executions.
We don’t have to go a long way back in history in order to understand the social impact that executions have had as the death penalty was a mean of social order up until the 70s in many western nations – and still is in some others. But a certain brutality can be observed in some methods. For example, during the Byzantine era, emperor Constantine I the Great ordered that the hands of corrupt officials would be cut off as they symbolize greed and molted lead was poured down the throats of nurses that assisted in seducing someone.
The Byzantine technique of molted lead poured down to women (Medical Daily)
These “innovative” methods existed also around the same time in the eastern part of the world. More specifically in China “lingchi” was a renowned method of punishment from the 10th century and onwards. Lingchi translates from “death by a thousand cuts” to “slow slicing”. A phenomenon that western culture has interpreted in various ways mainly to present the horrors of the Chinese penal system to the West.
Lingchi’s first usage as a torturing technique can be tracked down during the rule of Liu Song dynasty’s emperor Liu Ziye (464-466) who was notorious for his barbaric tactics and executed many high-level official with this method. Even earlier, during the reign of the second emperor of China’s Qin dynasty, Qin Er Shi (210-207 BCE), officials were punished though similar types of tortures. During the rule of the Tang dynasty around 900, it became the most notorious torturing method in China. Towards the end of the China’s last dynasty the Qing Dynasty, lingchi was abolished as a practice in 1905.
Thus, what exactly is lingchi and how it functions? As stated, the most common used English translation is “death by a thousand cuts”. But this interpretation doesn’t capture the actual process. It wasn’t just an executioner with a sword or a knife that cut people open. On the contrary, there is a whole technique behind it.
Typically, a victim would be tied to a wooden post. From there, the executioner would be starting by cutting the flesh of the person starting from the upper body, removing muscles until the libs where visible so he could amputate one at a time. Next, the executioner would cut flesh off the arms, exposing the tissue and muscles until he was finished with both upper and the lower body. Usually, the victim had perished in the middle of the execution and was decapitated. If the family of the victim would afford to pay, these ritualized cuttings would be applied post-mortem and the decapitation would be first. If that didn’t sound bad enough, in Confucianism philosophy a death such this means that the same fate awaits the condemned once he passes on the afterlife establishing a circle of endless torture.
The question thus rises: what crimes could someone commit in order to be subjected to such torment. Usually, the offender should have committed a capital crime. Treason, mass murder, matricide or patricide were the most common ones. The last known death by lingchi was in April 10th 1905, when Fou Tchou-Li suffered the last execution by this method for the murder of a Mongolian prince, two weeks before the technique was outlawed. It was also the first time that public photos of this method became accessible to the world.
Lingchi has surely left its mark in the western pop culture. Books by many renowned authors such as Susan Songtag titled “Regarding the Pain of Other” that was nominated for the National Book Circle Award have mentioned the practice. In cinematic representation, this method was featured in the 25-minute controversial film “Lingchi” and in the well acclaimed and commercially successful American film “The Sand Pebble” starring Steven McQueen among others.
In conclusion, a method that combines sadomasochism techniques and can been tracked down in our recent past, fully represents the “creativity” that the human mind possesses. The Chinese technique of lingchi is only one example of the many barbaric torturing methods that existed throughout history during different eras and sure is a haunting one.
Allthatisinteresting: “Lingchi may be the most terrifying punishment in history”, Available here
History Collection: “20 of the slowest historical torture methods we can’t believe living souls had to endure”, Available here