Death by a Thousand Cuts

Glen Newey writes:

Death by a Thousand Cuts recounts the history of lingchi, the method used to execute certain categories of criminal in pre-revolutionary China until the punishment was abolished in 1905. Like the Thousand-Year Reich, the chiliadal claims of lingchi turn out to be exaggerated. The convicted felon in line for it could expect a few dozen gashes at most. One such was Wang Weiqin, a photograph of whose execution in 1904, taken by soldiers attached to the French Legation after the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion, is reproduced in the book. The hapless Wang is shown lashed to a pole, wearing an incongruous frou-frou, his muscles already oozing visibly from the blade. Worse was to follow, though the coup de grâce – a dagger in the heart – came fairly soon afterwards.

(LRB 29 January 2009)

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