China: a chair equipped with blades for performances by mediums (tangki). Photograph, 19--.

[between 1910 and 1919?]
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A dragon chair on which a Chinese medium or shaman (tongji, or tang-ki in Hokkien) sits while in possession by a God such as Sun Wu Kung (Monkey ) or No cha or others. This is connected to the popular religion of the Chinese, not to formal religion, and it is the sort of thing that was looked down upon by upper class or educated Chinese. The custom is very much alive in Singapore and you can find film of tang-ki ceremonies on YOUtube: the chairs are often shown but the version with sword blades is only shown for a moment on one. Photographs of tangki show body piercing with long skewers, striking the body with a spiked ball, tongue cutting and slashing the body with swords -- all without permanent damage, and all to show the superhuman powers of the god in the medium. As well sword- or nail-chairs, mediums sometimes climb sword ladders. ... "I can fully believe that the chair was sold to Sir Henry [Wellcome]'s agents as a torture chair, because this would fit in with the sadistic Chinese Fu Manchu stereotype of the period." (information from David Jones, 2012)

Chair in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, London. Bears display label, since removed, saying "Torture chair. Chinese. XVIII century". Dragons' head finials on arm rests are vertical, whereas they are currently (2008) diagonal


[London] : [Wellcome Historical Medical Museum], [between 1910 and 1919?]

Physical description

1 photograph : photoprint ; sheet 20.4 x 15.2 cm


Lettering typed on label stuck to back of print catalogued


Wellcome Collection 663429i


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