Ling Chi: Death by a Thousand Cuts, in Pictures

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The ancient Chinese execution method known as “death by a thousand cuts,” or in Chinese as Ling Chi or Leng T’che, which as the name suggests involves slicing apart a live criminal, is documented in the grotesque yet fascinating photographic record reproduced below:

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The actual practice, though undeniably brutal, differs somewhat from the mythologised version in which victims are slowly sliced into thousands of pieces over days in order to prolong their suffering to untold levels.

Historians think instead that the practice normally took the form of tying down the subject before a crowd, and then slicing off breasts, major muscles and eventually limbs and the head in a process unlikely to have lasted more than half an hour. Death must have occurred long before the procedure was complete.

“Merciful” variations might involve drugging the subject or dispatching them with a blow to the heart early on in the process.

These photographs date from 1904 (they were taken by French observers); the practice was finally abolished in 1905 after being a common punishment for a thousand years. Other grisly execution practices at the time included killing the entire family of the accused or leaving them in a cage to expire naturally.

China has come a long way in 100 years, though not clearly not nearly as far as some would hope

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