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  • July 19, 1900.

  • A man sits down for his morning coffee and reads his favorite newspaper, The San Francisco

  • Call.

  • He quickly turns to the story of a missing catboat and its two unfortunate occupants,

  • but there's one headline that day that really piques his curiosity.

  • It reads, “Terrible Tortures Practiced by the Chinese.”

  • He pushes his specks up his nose as he reads that nowhere on Earth is any countryso

  • cruel and so devoted to fearful tortures”, and that no place isso adept at devising

  • new forms of martyrdom for the people they hatethan in China.

  • He reads on and discovers a slow kind of horror he's never heard about: The Cangue.

  • That newspaper article in the San Francisco Call was real, if not more than a little racially

  • biased.

  • Here is another line from the same article: “A Chinaman would take no artistic pleasure

  • in anything that killed quickly or that reached its culmination of pain quickly.

  • His victim must suffer a little more each hour.

  • In that way, he makes his delight last long and can keep a whole string of wretches to

  • charm him by their slow dying for months.”

  • Yes, that part was unashamedly racist, and perhaps the writer was not too well-read on

  • the history of his own ancestors' cruelty.

  • But the cangue was certainly a real thing, and indeed, it could have been a long, drawn-out

  • punishment.

  • It might have sometimes ended in death, but as you'll see today, it took on lots of

  • forms.

  • Let's talk about perhaps the most basic form first, something you could find in China

  • around the time that article was written.

  • If you've ever seen the stocks that they used in Europe and the US back in the day,

  • it looked very similar.

  • The main difference is that even though the offender's head was surrounded by two pieces

  • of wooden board fastened together, he or she could actually move a bit more.

  • There were variations on this, too, such as sometimes the boards prevented him from getting

  • his hands to his mouth, which meant he could neither eat nor drink by himself.

  • In this case, he had to rely on family or passersby for their charity.

  • Maybe he could use his hands, but since the boards might weigh as much as 15kg (33 pounds)

  • getting around and living a normal life was not easy in the slightest.

  • The yoke was no joke.

  • As the descriptive writer in that newspaper article wrote, he might be kept in his cangue

  • till madness or death ends his sufferings.”

  • You can only imagine how painful it must have been to have been strapped inside one of those

  • things.

  • Sure, the victim might have stayed low down to the ground, but for how many weeks can

  • a person do that?

  • The other thing is this was supposed to be a form of public humiliation, just as the

  • stocks were, and like victims of the stocks, the public might have been the opposite of

  • charitable.

  • Maybe the man in the cangue had stolen from people in the village, or worse, maybe he

  • had committed a violent crime.

  • What do you think would have happened to him in this case?

  • Yep, he might have been pelted with rocks and his life might have ended soon after.

  • It goes back a long way, too, but we can't say how far back exactly.

  • There's some text from the Great Ming Legal Code of 1397 which states that the victim

  • should be held in the cangue in relation to the nature of the crime he has committed.

  • The weight of the cangue was also correlated with the gravity of the crime, a crime that

  • would have been stated on paper nailed to the device.

  • At first, the sufferer might be able to take the weight, but over time, it became hellish.

  • Again, in the words of that news story, “In a week the torturers have the felicity of

  • seeing a maddened wretch stumble and fall around blindly, weeping and yelling with anguish.”

  • That's if he could eat by himself or the local people felt sorry enough for him and

  • fed him.

  • If not, his life expectancy in the cangue was likely only a few days since the lack

  • of water would have killed him.

  • As for lack of food, starvation might have taken a few weeks.

  • On the bright side, a well-liked person in the cangue could have been taken care of and

  • in the end, he might have just lost a bit of face.

  • The newspaper story failed to mention that part...

  • There was also beating by guards that might have happened in the cangue, which under the

  • Yuan dynasty by law might have just been with a light stick 7 to 57 times.

  • But it might also have been with a heavy stick 67 to 107 times, which could have resulted

  • in death if a bribe hadn't been paid to lessen the force of the blows.

  • The death would have been slow and usually a result of infected cuts.

  • Remember this was for lesser crimes, too.

  • For example, under the Yuan Code of 1277, 133 offenses could lead to execution, but

  • under the Ching Code of 1740, a whopping 813 offenses merited the death penalty, usually

  • by strangulation or decapitation, and to a lesser extent, slow slicing.

  • With that in mind, cangue really was the least of an offender's worries.

  • Believe it or not, though, what we've talked about so far is the less brutal form of the

  • cangue.

  • We guess that's a matter of perspective, though.

  • Would you prefer the chance to live on or just have your death over and done with quickly?

  • Let us explain.

  • Sometimes the person could move with the cangue, but other times the person would have the

  • board fastened around their head and they would also be kept in a kind of wooden cage.

  • Again, this might have happened in a public place as means to show others what happens

  • if someone created disorder.

  • They might also have been left there until they died.

  • The fear factor was described like this in legal text:

  • If you govern by punishment the people will fear.

  • Being fearful they will not commit villainies.

  • There being no villainies, people will be happy.”

  • It's reasoning as old as time, but time has shown us that sometimes the real villains

  • might be the ones doing the punishing.

  • That's why in China like elsewhere more barbaric rulers who had a penchant for the

  • cruel and usual were often replaced with reformists.

  • In this respect, the killer form of the cangue might be seen as less brutal than other Chinese

  • punishments in history such as being cut into pieces, or boiled alive, or being slow-sliced

  • to death.

  • Then there was beheading, which was seen by people in China back in the day as less preferable

  • to hanging.

  • The reason is a person wanted to keep their head for the afterlife.

  • This is why the cangue and the cage as a slow form of hanging, never mind if it took a long

  • time, might have been a better way to die than a quick chop with the sword.

  • Cangue hanging went like this.

  • The offender was placed in the cangue and then placed inside the cage.

  • The cangue was then attached to the top of the cage.

  • His feet couldn't touch the ground, but he wasn't left just hanging there because

  • supports were placed under his feet.

  • This was supposed to be a slow death, so only little by little were the supports removed

  • and the pressure on his neck would be incremental until he died.

  • This sounds like something that happened a very long time ago, but it was exactly how

  • some rebels in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion were treated after they were arrested.

  • There is a photo to prove it, with a note saying that it was done toappease foreign

  • powers.”

  • The Boxers were not keen on foreigners, and certainly Christian missionaries, but it's

  • a complex story we won't get into today.

  • We'll just say that when it came to the cangue, this form meant certain death and

  • it wasn't an express kind of execution.

  • We've also seen other photos, one of them likely taken by a French person because it

  • explains in French that a woman is sentenced to death by strangulation in the cangue.

  • Now you need to watch, “Weird Punishments Handed Out Instead of Prison.”

  • Or, have a look at, “Smallest Crimes That Will Get You the Biggest Punishments Around

  • The World.”

July 19, 1900.

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Chinese Death Cage - Worst Punishments in the History of Mankind

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