Chinese water torture

Chinese water torture
Chinese water torture at Sing Sing Prison circa 1860
A reproduction of a Chinese water torture apparatus at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

Chinese water torture is the popular name for a method of water torture 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 century.


The term "Chinese water torture" may have arisen from Harry Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell (a feat of escapology introduced in Berlin at Circus Busch September 21, 1912; 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 the evil Fu Manchu subjected his victims to various ingenious tortures, such as the wire 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 term Spanish water torture is also used in Europe and UK, although this term often refers to a variation of waterboarding used during the Spanish Inquisition:

"Victims were strapped down so that they could not move, and cold water was then dripped slowly on to a small area of the body. The forehead was found to be the most suitable point for this form of torture: prisoners could see each drop coming, and after long durations were gradually driven frantic as a perceived hollow would form in the centre of the forehead. Many of the people that were being tortured suffered a great deal of mental retardation."[citation needed]

The Norse legend of Loki may have also been an inspiration for the Chinese water torture. Loki, who was punished by the gods for murdering Baldr, was strapped to three slabs of stone, and had a snake placed above him, so that its venom would pour into his eyes.

In popular culture

  • The Discovery Channel series MythBusters investigated Chinese water torture in the season 3 episode "Brown Note, Water Torture", and found that dripping water on the forehead, by itself, was not particularly stressful. Immobilizing the subject along with a variable water drop schedule proved the most stressful of the methods they tried, and cold water intensified the effect. The key part of this is that the water drop was made to be randomly timed. Thus, the victim would not know when the next drop would come.
  • American pop singer DeSean references Chinese water torture in his song "Torture" about lost love, which later became an animated music video.[1]
  • The animated show Ed, Edd n Eddy parodied this in an episode, where Johnny and Plank are interrogated for suspicion of taking everyone's prized possessions. In the episode, to torture Johnny, Eddy uses this form of torture on Plank using a water gun.
  • Jennifer Beals mentions in a commentary for the pilot episode of The L Word that watching herself on screen is like Chinese Water Torture.
  • In the animated show The Venture Brothers episode "Return to Malice", Henchman 21 puts Hank and Dean Venture through the Chinese water torture, only to find that it doesn't work.

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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