Almost 200 methods of Chinese torture are depicted in a ghoulish exhibition that sparked intense interest on social media in the country Tuesday.
Pictures from the Chinese Ancient Instruments of Torture Exhibition spread like wildfire online after state media published photos from the show at the weekend.
The exhibition, which opened last year at an educational center in the eastern city of Huai'an, includes reenactments of prisoners being hung over a fire, flayed and being tortured on what is known as a "Tiger Bench" - pictured above - a Qing dynasty (1644-1912) device that contorted victims' legs and arms in high pressure positions that could break bones or tear apart joints.
Chinese social media users have speculated that the exhibition is a veiled threat to officials in the midst of a widely publicized anti-corruption crackdown by the ruling Communist Party. "If we use these instruments on corrupt officials, 90 percent of us will support it," declared one user on China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo.
"These torture instruments were for normal people in the past, but now they should be used as a warning for corrupt officials today," another social media user wrote. Another intoned: "Communist Party members are not afraid of death!"
A woman who answered the phone at the center’s corporate owner, Huai'an ChuZhou Cultural Development Corporation Ltd., said: "There is no political meaning to the exhibit." She told NBC News that the exhibition was meant to show "what life was like in an ancient court" and that for corrupt officials who were caught in imperial China, "life back then was just like this."
-- Ed Flanagan and Chaojie Zhou