Death by a Thousand Cuts by Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon, and Gregory Blue - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Slice and Dice

Death by a Thousand Cuts


Harvard University Press 320pp £19.95

As I was writing this I heard a stockbroker on Radio 4 describe the economy failing as if ‘tortured’ by ‘the Chinese death of a thousand cuts’. It is an evergreen concept, and definitely not off limits to scholars. These three academic authors, from Oxford, Lyon, and Victoria, British Columbia, have attended conferences, we learn, on ‘The Comparative History of Torture’ and ‘The Representation of Pain’, and their research is published by one of the world's most prestigious academic presses. 

They write coolly and formally, but this is a book primarily about torment. Torment is distinguished from torture, the authors contend, in that it aims only to cause pain, while torture is inflicted to extract some statement. The Chinese practice of ‘lingchi’, known in the West – falsely – as

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