Torture in China: Who, What, Why and How

A 2014 global survey  of attitudes towards torture carried out in 21 countries found a vast majority of the 21,000 people surveyed believe there should be clear laws against torture. And rightfully so. Torture is illegal, barbaric and inhumane, and can never be justified. It has been outlawed internationally since 1948, yet it remains rampant in many countries, including in China.

Amnesty’s latest report No End In Sight: Torture and Forced Confessions in China finds that China’s criminal justice system is still heavily reliant on forced confessions, usually extracted through torture, and that lawyers who try to challenge torture cases are routinely ignored, harassed or even detained and tortured themselves.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the facts:


Torture in China is particularly prevalent against criminal suspects in pre-trial detention, that is, before they are tried in court. Individuals whom the government thinks pose political risks are particularly at risk of torture. These include human rights defenders, officials detained for corruption, Falun Gong adherents, and Tibetan and Uighur suspected of “separatism”. As lawyers have become increasingly willing to challenge torture cases, some have themselves ended up detained and tortured by the police. 

My hands were tied to the upper part of a bunk bed, and one of my legs was tied to the lower part of the bed. I was made to stand in that position while the guards used hangers to beat my head and plywood to beat my body. The guards put chili in my mouth and I was not allowed to use the toilet. After this, I was suspended from the ceiling. I was subjected to this kind of punishment for 27 days.

Falun Gong practitioner


Torture usually takes place when someone in authority intentionally causes severe pain or suffering for a specific purpose, such as getting information or in retaliation against someone. Torture in China is frequently carried out in detention centres and unofficial facilities by prison or police officials, or by inmates at the instigation of officials.


Torture in China is used to achieve two main goals: one, to extract confessions and obtain evidence for criminal prosecutions, and the other, to punish. For example, the report No End in Sight details activist Yang Mingyu’s experience, as related by his lawyer. Yang Mingyu had his hand and feet cuffed to a bed for three days in retaliation for his complaint about the quality of food he was given in detention. As a result, he had to eat, urinate and defecate while strapped to the bed. 


Torture can be physical, such as beating or forcing into a painful position, or it can be psychological, such as sleep deprivation. We’ve listed some methods and tools below that are commonly used in China:

  • Tiger bench

The individual’s legs are tightly bound to a bench, and bricks are gradually added under the victim’s feet, forcing the legs to bend backwards.

  • ‘Diaodiaoyi’ (Hanging restraint chair)

A person seated in this restraint chair will be unable to lean back or have his/herfeet rest on the ground. The chest will be bound to a board while the hands are cuffed, rendering the entire body immobile.

I was held for 87 days and everyday I suffered some form of torture, the worst of which was a special contraption I was forced to sit on, the ‘diaodiaoyi’ (hanging restraint chair). Typically I was forced to sit on it for at least 12 hours every day. At times, it was one or two full days, and the longest time (I was in it) was five full days.

Cai Ying, Chinese lawyer
  • Sleep deprivation through means including exposure to bright lights over bed

  • Exposure to extreme heat or cold

  • Use of handcuffs or ankle fetters or other restraints for prolonged periods, including the use of a chair referred to as an ‘iron chair’ 

My hands were handcuffed behind an iron chair (I was made to sit in). As I’m petite, my hands could hardly reach round the back of the broad chair but the officers forcibly did it. The sharp edges of the chair and handcuffs cut into me. I could feel all my muscles and joints completely stretched and my hands swollen; I felt so much pain I didn’t want to live. The two police officers repeatedly yanked on the handcuffs and I screamed each time they did so.

Yu Wensheng, Chinese lawyer

No End In Sight: Torture and Forced Confessions is published just ahead of a United Nations review of how China has complied with its obligations under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Amnesty also published in 2014 a report on China’s growing production and trade in “tools of torture”.