Chinese water torture

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A victim of 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 painful process in which cold water is slowly dripped onto the scalp, forehead or face for a prolonged period of time allegedly making the restrained victim insane. This form of torture was first described by Hippolytus De Marsiliis in Italy in the 15th or 16th century.[1]


The term "Chinese water torture" may have arisen from Chinese Water Torture Cell (a feat of escapology introduced in Berlin at Circus Busch on September 13, 1910). The escape entailed Harry 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, mocked, and laughed at them.[1]


There is very little evidence pertaining to the effectiveness of the method. The television series MythBusters investigated the effectiveness of Chinese water torture, and while it was found quite effective, they noted that the restraining equipment was providing most of the effect by itself, and when testing the dripping water alone on a relaxed, unrestrained subject, it was found almost negligible.[2] Nevertheless, in the Episode 3, Season 2 of the web television series Mind Field the MythBusters host Adam Savage said the following: "The creepiest thing that happened after we did this episode was that I got an email from someone from a throw away account. He said, 'We found that randomizing when the drops occurred was incredibly effective. That anything that happens on a regular periodicity can become a type of meditation, and you can then tune it out. If you couldn't predict it, he-said, 'We found, we were able to induce a psychotic break within 20 hours.'"[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Paraskovich, Jack (2016). The Wrong View of History. ISBN 978-1-4771-2395-9.
  2. ^ Mythbusters, "Water Torture". Episode 25, Season 2. (2005)
  3. ^ Mind Field, "Interrogation - Mind Field S2 (Ep 3)". Episode 3, Season 2. (2017)