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A recurring horror story on many websites and popular media outlets is that Japanese soldiers during World War II inflicted "bamboo torture" upon prisoners of war. The victim was supposedly tied securely in place above a young bamboo shoot. Over several days, the sharp, fast growing shoot would first puncture, then completely penetrate the victim's body, eventually emerging through the other side. The cast of the TV program MythBusters investigated bamboo torture in a 2008 episode and found that a bamboo shoot can penetrate through several inches of ballistic gelatin in three days. For research purposes, ballistic gelatin is considered comparable to human flesh, and the experiment thus supported the viability of this form of torture, if not its historicity. In her memoir "Hakka Soul", the Chinese poet and author Woon-Ping Chin mentions the "bamboo torture" as one of those tortures the locals believed the Japanese performed on prisoners.
This tale of using live trees impaling persons as they grow is, however, not confined to the context of WWII and the Japanese as torturers, but was recorded in the 19th century as an allegation Malays used against the Siamese after the Siamese invasion of Kedah in 1821. Among other alleged punishments, the sprout of the nipah palm was used in the manner of a "bamboo torture". A "Madras civilian", in his travel description from 1820s India asserts that it is a well known punishment in Ceylon to use a bamboo shoot in this way.