Wikipedia defines Chinese Water Torture as

a process in which water is slowly dripped onto a person's forehead, allegedly driving the restrained victim insane.

Was this type of torture was ever applied?

Secondly, it's often stated (at least in Spain) that water drops would finally penetrate through the skin and bone. Some sources: Neoseeker's Forum, Ebaumsworld's Forum.

As the Wikipedia article says:

"Victims were strapped down so that they could not move, and cold or warm water was then dripped slowly on to a small area of the body; usually the forehead. The forehead was found to be the most suitable point for this form of torture because of its sensitivity: prisoners could see each drop coming, and after long durations were gradually driven frantic as a perceived hollow would form in the center of the forehead."

From the Wikipedia article in Spanish:

After a few hours, the continuous dripping caused physical damage to the skin (similar to the fingertips after a bath).

And in French:

... a drop of water falls in a given interval and steady always in the same place on the front or top of the head, the death is caused by the erosion of the skin.

My own speculation, not based off data, is that this is false. Drops won't have much pressure and skin would be able to regenerate, although the water wouldn't be very good to skin. Moreover, the bone would be much harder and it should take many years. Is my speculations correct?

  • 5
    This was tested on Mythbusters - dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/mythbusters-database/… - also, I've never heard of the water boring through someone's forehead, can you provide a source for that claim?
    – rjzii
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 3:08
  • 2
    You have two links to the idea that the water might penetrate the skin. One is not notable enough - some random on a forum saying they had heard it. The other is a broken link. Please provide a better source of notability, or the second half of the question may be deleted.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 7:39
  • @Oddthinking Can I add sources in other languages?
    – jinawee
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 11:04
  • 2
    @jinawee - Should be fine as long as you provide a translation of it. A couple of the questions and answers on this site are based on foreign language sites.
    – rjzii
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 12:17
  • I have never heard of the physical damage part. I have heard from some Veterans of Vietnam that it was used in POW Camps as a mental torture.
    – Chad
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


Was this type of torture ever applied

According to the world's smartest man it was invented many centuries ago (the name is more recent).

the drip-drip-drip method of torture, not referred to as "Chinese," is described in Brian Innes's The History of Torture (1998) as having been invented by one Hippolytus de Marsiliis in 16th-century Italy.

I don't have access to that book but it appears to be intended to be a record of actual torture techniques.

An Australian artist forced herself to endure this for seven hours - but that doesn't really count as torture.

"Slow dripping of water onto the head" is listed in a report of an International Aid Network Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. This seems to say that this form of torture has been used on people in relatively recent conflicts.


I've no other evidence but over the centuries many many people must have heard of the technique. It seems inconceivable that there has not been at least one sadist (or gang of small boys) who have succumbed to the temptation to try it out.

I can find no easily accessible evidence that it has ever been a widespread, popular or effective method of torture routinely employed by the sort of agencies that are known to have used torture.

So yes - but it probably ranks pretty low on the list.

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