It seems that some emperors would specify the duration they wanted the torture to last before the moment of death. For example Yuan Chonghuan, a famous warrior who was fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit, was left shouting for half a day before he fell silent.
Another report described the executioner stabbing out the victims eyes at first, then moving on to chop off the ears, nose and genitals before getting some bigger cuts on the go at the thigh and shoulder regions. The entire process was reported to last three days and consist of 3,600 cuts in totality.
Here’s a description of lingchi written by Sir Henry Norman in his book The People and Politics of the Far East (1895):
“[The executioner] grasping handfuls from the fleshy parts of the body such as the thighs and breasts slices them away… the limbs are cut off piecemeal at the wrists and ankles, the elbows and knees, shoulders and hips. Finally the condemned is stabbed to the heart and the head is cut off.”
And here’s a different perspective on lingchi written by G.E. Morrison in his book An Australian in China written in the same year:
“The prisoner is tied to a rude cross: he is invariably deeply under the influence of opium. The executioner, standing before him, with a sharp sword makes two quick incisions above the eyebrows, and draws down the portion of skin over each eye, then he makes two more quick incisions across the breast, and in the next moment he pierces the heart, and death is instantaneous. Then he cuts the body in pieces; and the degradation consists in the fragmentary shape in which the prisoner has to appear in heaven.”
After death had visited, the victims flesh was either sold as Chinese medicine or cremated. The ashes and bones would be spread out as an extension of the punishment: your afterlife won’t be much fun as a disparate cloud of dust now will it?
So there you go, that’s the reality of death by 1,000 cuts for you to mull over late at night. The level of lingchi’s brutality varied significantly from harsh to quadruple harsh and I’m not keen on either end of the spectrum to be honest.