Yorimitsu Hashimoto

Panel 6A: Videogames, Narration, and War
Session 6 – July 3, 15:30 – 17:30

Suspended or Suspenseful Torture? A History of Rat Torture and Its Transmedial Representations

Torture has been described in various media. As a propaganda for criticizing opression, torture and the resulting executions have repeatedly appeared in painting, literature and films. On the other hand, since Poe’s “Pit and Pendulum” (1842), torture has been used as a tool to stimulate suspense and imagination, rather than depicting cruel scenes. In the films, for instance, the scene of people was being tied to tracks evolved as a 20th century version of “Pit and Pendulum”. This change may be due to modern law banning torture and regulating cruel depictions in literature and newspapers.

The rat torture is a typical example of torture becoming suspenseful while torture is regulated. In 1909, Sigmund Freud reported a so-called Rat Man in his treatise on neurosis. According to the patient, he was obsessed with a rat torture technique used in the Orient, which he had heard from a Czech captain. The torture method allegedly involved putting several rodents into an upside-down pot placed over the buttock of the victim. The pot was then heated to make the rodents panic and thus gnaw at the victim. This violent method is considered to have been derived from Octave Mirbeau’s novel set in China, Torture Garden (1899). Interestingly, possibly the only record of this torture technique is a 17th century Dutch chronicle about inquisition.  This description might have influenced rat torture, for instance, its use in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Orwell, in spite of his criticism of stereotypical characters such as Fu Manchu, repeated that this torture was originally from China. Perhaps from the second novel in the Fu Manchu series, this torture was known as a Chinese one even in Japan. In this paper, I would like to explain how and why torture techniques have been represented and modified according to the media.


Professor (Comparative Literature), School of Letters, Osaka University, Japan, 1-5 Machikaneyama-cho, Toyonaka, Osaka, 560-8532, JAPAN, hsmt@let.osaka-u.ac.jp 

Ph.D. University of Lancaster (U.K.), M.A. University of Tokyo, B.A. Osaka University

Specialized Fields: Japonisme and the Yellow Peril in Britain

Major Publications in English: Yorimitsu Hashimoto (ed.), Caricatures and Cartoons, 1921-1930, 3 volumes (Tokyo: Edition Synapse, 2018), “A Modern Symposium? Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson and Letters from and to a Chinese Official” in Anne Tomiche (ed.), Comparative Literature as a Critical Approach, vol.5 (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017), “Toward a Theory of “Artist Manga”: Manga Self-Consciousness and the Transforming Figure of the Artist”, University of Minnesota Press Mechademia 8 (2013).