An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

paoge 炮格, the roasting beam

Feb 23, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

The roasting beam (paoge 炮格, often rendered as paoluo 炮烙), was a singular historic event in which the despotic King Zhou 紂 of the Shang dynasty 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE) tortured one of his ministers to death. The story is reported in the universal history Shiji 史記 (3 Yin benji 殷本紀). It is one of many different cruel punishments that King Zhou invented to punish disobedient and critical subjects. The story is also narrated in the biographical collection Lienüzhuan 列女傳, where the tool is described as a bronze beam laid over a beacon filled with burning coal. The beam was made slippery by oiling it (gao tong zhu 膏銅柱 "greasing a bronze pillar"). Delinquents had to walk over it, and when slipping off and falling into the fire, King Zhou's consort Da Ji 妲己 burst out laughing.

The philosophical book Zhuangzi 荀子 (ch. Yibing 議兵) is one of the first which enumerates this event as one of many tortures invented by King Zhou, namely cutting out Bi Gan's 比干 heart, incarcerating Prince Jizi 箕子, and creating the roasting beam.

Jiang Yonglin 姜永琳 (1990). "Paoge 炮烙", in Yang Chunxi 楊春洗 et al., eds. Xingshi faxue da cidian 刑事法學大辭書(Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 362.
Wang Shaotang 王召棠, Chen Pengsheng 陳鵬生, eds. (1988). Jianming fazhi shi cidian 簡明法制史詞典 (Zhengzhou: Hebei renmin chubanshe), 80.
Wu Shuchen 武樹臣, ed. (1999). Zhongguo chuantong falü wenhua cidian 中國傳統法律文化辭典 (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe), 122.
Zhongguo Laodong Xuehui 中國勞改學會, ed. (1993). Zhongguo laogaixue da cidian 中國勞改學大辭典 (Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe), 533.