The Horrible Truth Behind The Chinese Death Cage

As the oldest living civilization still in existence, China perfected the art of torture in order to terrorize its citizens into compliance. One of the more disturbing methods is the Chinese death cage — or the cangue — which was commonly used as a slow torture device for corporal and capital punishment, public humiliation, and discipline until the early 20th century. 

While there were variations on this terrifying device, it was typically made of a heavy two-piece wooden board fitted with a sharply rimmed hole just big enough to fit around the neck. The pieces were locked or hinged shut and sometimes strapped to the offender. Elsewhere, the cangue rested on the shoulders, and the sharp rim would cut into the skin, causing infections, which added to the prisoner's discomfort. It resembled a pillory — although it wasn't as restrictive — and was often portable (via StrangeAgo).

As a multi-functional torture tool, the cangue was a torturer's best friend because of its ability to incorporate several disciplinary and torture techniques. One could experience stoning, slow hanging, immobility, and sustenance deprivation with just this device. According to The Infographics Show, The Great Ming Code of 1937 deemed that time spent in the cangue depend on the crime and that the weight should correlate with the gravity of the offense. A prisoner could go insane after carrying as much as 20–33 pounds (9–15 kilograms) around their neck for months.

Death cage executions included cangue hangings

StrangeAgo reports that the cangue took on many forms. For example, one variation hampered the wearer's ability to feed themselves, while another version allowed for independent feeding but was too heavy to lift off the ground. Given that humiliation was a primary purpose of this device, the perpetrator's name and offense were nailed to the cangue for all to see. If the person was unpopular or the crime was offensive to the masses, the punishment would often include starvation or stoning. If the offender survived pelted rocks, they would continue to suffer from infected wounds.

The Chinese death cage utilized the cangue and a cage to slowly execute criminals. By placing a cangue-wearing prisoner on public display inside a restrictive wooden cage, they were left to die slowly from the elements or a lack of food and water. An even crueler fate was the slow death of a cangue hanging, which was used to execute some Boxer Rebellion participants in 1900, per CVLT Nation. By attaching the cangues to the top of a wooden cage, the prisoners were suspended but held up by supports placed beneath their feet. The torturers lowered the supports slowly until the neck pressure eventually hung them.

It's difficult to fathom that there are other ways to torture and execute people that are worse than the Chinese death cage. Nevertheless, a San Francisco Call article published July 19, 1900, listed alternative horrors such as bamboo floggings, slow slicing, and impalement as consequences used for more serious transgressions.