Chinese water torture

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Chinese water torture at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, circa 1860
A reproduction of a Chinese water torture apparatus at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

Chinese water torture is a process in which water is slowly dripped onto a person's forehead, allegedly driving the restrained victim insane. 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 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 Fu Manchu subjected his victims to various ingenious tortures, such as the wired jacket). Hippolytus de Marsiliis is credited with the invention of a form of water torture. Having observed how drops of water falling one by one on a stone gradually created a hollow, he applied the method to the human body. Other suggestions say that the term "Chinese water torture" was invented merely to grant the method a sense of ominous mystery. The victim would be stripped of their clothes, shown to the public, then tortured. They would be driven insane while bystanders watched and mocked them.

The term "Spanish water torture" is also used in Europe, although this term often refers to a type of torture used during the Spanish Inquisition:

"Victims were strapped down so that they could not move, and cold or warm water was then dripped slowly on to a small area of the body; usually the forehead. The forehead was found to be the most suitable point for this form of torture because of its sensitivity: prisoners could see each drop coming, and after long durations were gradually driven frantic as a perceived hollow would form in the center of the forehead."

In literature and popular culture[edit]

  • Karl May described the Chinese water torture in the 1894 book From the Rio De La Plata to the Cordilleras - Book 2 (In den Cordilleren).
  • English band Queen made an instrumental song called "Chinese Torture" to convey the horror and fear that Chinese water torture evokes. It appears on the CD version of their 1989 album The Miracle.
  • Chinese water torture is used by Eddy on Plank in the pilot episode of the Cartoon Network series Ed, Edd n Eddy, premiered on January 4, 1999.
  • American pop singer DeSean references Chinese water torture in his animated music video "Torture".[1]
  • The MythBusters also put this to the test on one of their episodes.
  • In the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie mentions the Chinese water torture as a possible punishment for swearing.
  • In the visual novel Chaos;Head, Ayase is subjected to the torture.
  • In the satirical action film Team America: World Police, a puppet depiction of Kim Jong Il uses water torture on Sarah.
  • In the sitcom Married... with Children, Kelly compared watching her boyfriend Frank kissing another woman to "Chinese waiter torture", when what she really means is "Chinese water torture".
  • Rap group "Jedi Mind Tricks" has a song called "Chinese Water Torture".
  • On the television series "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr", episode 24 "And Baby Makes Three" Pete Hutter is given Chinese water torture.
  • In the 1964 Walt Disney album Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, the Chinese water torture is described and the sounds of water dripping is heard until the victim breaks and starts babbling away in "Chinese".

See also[edit]


External links[edit]