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The Eighteen layers of Chinese Hell

Last Updated on 2023/10/31

Diyu, 地獄, the Traditional Chinese Hell, based on the Buddhism concept of Naraka, is an underground maze with various levels and chambers, where souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed when they were alive.

Some Chinese legend speaks of eighteen levels of Hell. According to Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion, hell is a sort of purgatory which serves to punish and purify souls in preparation for reincarnation. The concept of Diyu was influenced by various religious traditions that permeated China over the centuries, including Taoism and Confucianism. However, it’s largely agreed that its most direct inspiration is the Buddhist idea of Naraka.

Diyu is traditionally depicted as an intricate maze-like structure with various levels and chambers. It is often illustrated as comprising eighteen layers, although the number can vary depending on the source. Each level is designed for different types of atonement, corresponding to the sins committed by the souls in their earthly lives. Souls pass through these chambers to be judged and cleansed before their eventual rebirth.

The types of punishments meted out in Diyu can be severe, with graphic illustrations often depicting harrowing tortures. These may include being sawed in half, thrown into pits of filth, or set on fire, among other fates. The specific torture is matched to the sin committed, reflecting a form of poetic justice.

Diyu has a profound impact on Chinese folklore, literature, and art. It serves not only as a religious concept but also as a moral framework, instilling fear of karmic retribution for unethical behavior. Diyu appears in various literary works, including the famous classical novel “Journey to the West” (西遊記), and it has been depicted in traditional Chinese paintings and sculptures.

Taiwanese painter Jiang Yi-Zi (江逸子) displayed human suffering in the “Scenes of the Hells” series.

The East Hell

Chamber of Tongue Ripping, 拔舌地獄

In the first layer, those who stir up troubles by gossiping will find their tongues being ripped out.


Chamber of Scissors, 剪刀地獄

Second layer. Those who break the marriage of others will have their fingers cut off.


Chamber of Iron Cycads, 鐵樹地獄

Those who cause discords among family members of others will be hung on Iron trees.


Chamber of Mirrors of Retribution, 孽镜地狱

To those who managed to escape the punishment for their crimes during earthly life will be shown their true shape.


Chamber of Steamer, 蒸籠地獄

Hypocrites and troublemakers will find their punishment in a steamer.


Forest of Copper Column, 銅柱地獄

Arsonists for retaliation will be bound to columns of glowing copper.


Mountain of Knives, 刀山地獄

Those who kill sentient beings with a knife without a reason or for pleasure will find themselves climbing a hill of knives. Sinners are made to shed blood by climbing a mountain with sharp blades sticking out.


Hill of Ice, 冰山地獄

Schemers, deceivers of elders (including parents), and adulterers will be left naked in freezing cold.


Cauldron of Boiling Oil, 油鍋地獄

Rapists, thieves, abusers, false accusers will be boiled in fried oil.



Chamber of Ox, 牛坑地獄

Those who abuse animals will find themselves being bullied by animals.


Chamber of Rock, 石壓地獄

Those who abandon or kill babies will hold a heavy rock (and eventually crashed) and will be surrounded by putrid water.


Chamber of Mortars and Pestles, 舂臼地獄

Those who voluntarily waste food will be forced to be fed by demons with hell-fire.

Chamber of Mortars and Pestles_chinese_hell

The pool of Blood, 血池地獄

Those who do not respect others will find themselves soaked in blood.


Town of Suicide, 枉死地獄

People who commit suicide will find themselves wandering in the city. The wind of sorrow and the rain of pain lash day and night this desolate place. They are those who have voluntarily altered the karmic course of the Incarnation.


Chamber of Dismemberment, 磔刑地獄

Tomb raiders will find their body being torn into pieces.


Mountain of Flames, 火山地獄

Thieves, robbers, and corrupt will be thrown into the flames in a hellish volcano.


Yard of Stone Mill, 石磨地獄

Those who subdue the weak, abuse their power and oppress the people will be crushed and pulverized in a stone mill.


Chamber of Saw, 刀鋸地獄

Those who exploit the loopholes in the law and engage in unfair practices in business will be sawn into half by demons.



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Topic: depiction of hell, the origin of hell, hell, Chinese folklore, Buddhist hell, Naraka hell, Taoist hell, Chinese folklore hell, hell meaning, hell documentary, hell video

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