Bamboo torture

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Bamboo torture is a possibly apocryphal form of torture and execution where a bamboo shoot grows through the body of a victim, reported to have been used in East and South Asia but for which no reliable evidence exists.[1]

Recorded usage[edit]

Bamboo sprout. Some species can grow as fast as 4 cm per hour

A "Madras civilian", in his travel description from 1820s India, referred to this use of bamboo was a well known punishment in Ceylon.[2]

After World War II, stories circulated of Japanese soldiers inflicting "bamboo torture" upon U.S. and Allied prisoners of war, where the victim was tied securely in place above a young bamboo shoot.[3] Over several days, the sharp, fast-growing shoot would first puncture, then completely penetrate the victim's body, eventually emerging through the other side.[4] The Chinese poet and author Woon-Ping Chin[5] mentions the "bamboo torture" as one of those tortures the locals believed the Japanese performed on prisoners in her memoir Hakka Soul.[6]

The cast of the TV program MythBusters investigated bamboo torture in a 2008 episode and found that a bamboo shoot can penetrate through several inches of ballistic gelatin in three days. For research purposes, ballistic gelatin is considered comparable to human flesh, and the experiment thus supported the viability of this form of torture, not its historicity.

However, this tale of using live trees impaling persons as they grow is not confined to the context of World War II and the Japanese as torturers, but was recorded in the 19th century, when Malays alleged that the Siamese used the sprout of the nipah palm in the manner of bamboo torture during the 1821 Siamese invasion of Kedah among other punishments.[7][8][9]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Madras civilian (November 1827). J. S. Buckingham, ed. "Journey Across the Peninsula of India, from Madras to Bombay". Oriental Herald. London: Longman, Rees, Brown and Green. 15,47: 293–299., p.296
  3. ^ The Other Empire: Literary Views of Japan from the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia, UP Press, 2008
  4. ^ As an example of popular promotion of this horror story, see for example:WW2 People's WarJapanese Torture Techniques
  5. ^ Woon-Ping Chin
  6. ^ Ping, Chin Woon (2008). Hakka Soul. NUS Press. ISBN 978-9971-69-400-5., p.23
  7. ^ Osborn, Sherard (1861). My journal in Malayan waters. London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge.,p. 190–94
  8. ^ The Japan Science Review: Humanistic studies, Volumes 6-10, 1955 - Dissertations, Academic
  9. ^ Sejarah Pahang, Buyong bin Adil (Haji.), Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pelajaran, Malaysia, 1984 - Pahang - 461 pages