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Jade Record 1.PNG
Illustration from the Jade Record: Sinners are being tortured in the sixth court of hell by hammering metal spikes into the body; skinning alive; sawing body in half; and having to kneel on metal filings.
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 地獄
Simplified Chinese 地狱
Literal meaning earth prison
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet địa ngục
Korean name
Hangul 지옥
Literal meaning hell, underworld
Japanese name
Kanji 地獄

Diyu (Sanskrit: नरक "Naraka") is the realm of the dead or "hell" in Chinese mythology. It is loosely based on a combination of the Buddhist concept of Naraka, traditional Chinese beliefs about the after-life and a variety of popular expansions and reinterpretations of these two traditions.

Diyu is typically depicted as a subterranean maze with various levels and chambers, to which souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed when they were alive. The exact number of levels in Diyu and their associated deities differ between Buddhist and Taoist interpretations. Some speak of three to four "courts"; others mention "Ten Courts of Hell", each of which is ruled by a judge (collectively known as the Ten Yama Kings); other Chinese legends speak of the "Eighteen Levels of Hell". Each court deals with a different aspect of atonement and different punishments; most legends claim that sinners are subjected to gruesome tortures until their "deaths", after which they are restored to their original state for the torture to be repeated.

Conceptions of Diyu[edit]

According to ideas from Taoism,[1][2] Buddhism[3][4][5] and traditional Chinese folk religion, Diyu is a purgatory that serves to punish and renew spirits in preparation for reincarnation into their next life. Many deities, whose names and purposes are the subject of conflicting accounts, are associated with Diyu.

Some early Chinese societies speak of people going to Mount Tai, Jiuyuan, Jiuquan or Fengdu after death.[6][7][8] At present, Fengdu and the temples on Mount Tai have been rebuilt into tourist attractions, incorporating artistic depictions of hell and the after-life.[9][10] Some controversial folk religion planchette writings, such as Journeys to the Under-World, say that new hells with new punishments are created as the world changes and there is also a City of Innocent Deaths (Chinese: 枉死城; pinyin: Wǎng Sǐ Chéng).[11][12][13] Some claimed there are other facilities.[14][15]

Ten Courts of Hell[edit]

Ming Dynasty (sixteenth century) glazed earthenware figurines representing three of the ten Yama Kings.

The concept of the "Ten Courts of Hell" began after Chinese folk religions were influenced by Buddhism. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor put Yama in charge of overseeing the affairs of Diyu. There are 12,800 hells located under the earth—eight dark hells, eight cold hells and 84,000 miscellaneous hells located at the edge of the universe. All will go to Diyu after death but the period of time one spends in Diyu depends on the severity of the sins one has committed, and after receiving due punishment, one will eventually be sent for reincarnation. In the mean time, souls will pass from stage to stage at the decision of Yama. Yama also reduced the number of hells to ten. He later divided Diyu into ten courts, each overseen by a "Yama King", while he remained as the sovereign ruler of Diyu.

Ten Yama Kings
# Name and title Birthday
(in the Chinese calendar)
In charge of
(see the Cold and Hot Narakas for details)
1 Jiang, King Qinguang
1st day of 2nd lunar month Life and death and fortunes of all humans Believed to be Jiang Ziwen of the Eastern Han Dynasty
2 Li, King Chujiang
1st day of 3rd lunar month Sañjīva, Arbuda
3 Yu, King Songdi
8th day of 2nd lunar month Kālasūtra, Nirarbuda
4 Lü, King Wuguan
18th day of 2nd lunar month Saṃghāta, Aṭaṭa
5 Bao, King Yanluo
8th day of 1st lunar month Raurava, Hahava Believed to be Bao Zheng of the Northern Song Dynasty
6 Bi, King Biancheng
8th day of 3rd lunar month Mahāraurava, Huhuva, and City of Innocent Deaths
7 Dong, King Taishan
27th day of 3rd lunar month Tapana, Utpala Believed to be Dong Ji (董極) of the Later Han
8 Huang, King Dushi
1st day of 4th lunar month Pratāpana, Padma Believed to be Huang Sile (黃思樂) of the Five Dynasties period
9 Lu, King Pingdeng
8th day of 4th lunar month Avīci, Mahāpadma
10 Xue, King Zhuanlun
17th day of 4th lunar month Sending souls for reincarnation


Main article: Youdu

Among the various other geographic features believed of Diyu, the capital city has been thought to be named Youdu. It is generally conceived as being similar to a typical Chinese capital city, such as Chang'an, but surrounded with and pervaded with darkness.

Eighteen levels of hell[edit]

The headless ghost of Yue Fei confronting the recently deceased spirit of Qin Hui in the sixth court. The plaque held by the attendant on the left reads: "Qin Hui's ten wicked crimes." From a nineteenth-century Chinese Hell Scroll.

The concept of the eighteen hells started in the Tang Dynasty. The Buddhist text Wen Diyu Jing (問地獄經) mentioned 134 worlds of hell, but was simplified to the Eighteen Levels of Hell for convenience. Sinners feel pain and agony just like living humans when they are subjected to the tortures listed below. They can not "die" from the torment because when the ordeal is over, their bodies will be restored to their original states for the torture to be repeated. The following is a list of common punishments and tortures in the eighteen levels of hell:

  • Mountain of Knives: Sinners are made to shed blood by climbing a mountain with sharp blades sticking out. Some depictions show offenders climbing trees with knives or sharp thorns sticking out from trunks and branches.
  • Cauldron torture: Sinners are fried in oil cauldrons. Some depictions show offenders being steamed rather than fried.
  • Dismemberment: Sinners are dismembered by various means, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Sawing
    • Carving
    • Slicing in half
    • Mashing or pounding into pulp
    • Crushed by heavy rocks or boulders
    • Run over by vehicles
  • Grinding torture: Sinners are put into a grinding machine and ground into a bloody pulp.
  • Tortures involving fire:
    • Burning: Sinners are set aflame or cast into infernos.
    • Paolao torture: Sinners are stripped naked and made to climb a large metal cylinder with a fire lit at its base.
    • Boiling liquid torture: Sinners have boiling liquids forced down their throats or poured on parts of their bodies.
  • Tortures involving removal of body parts or organs:
    • Tongue-ripping
    • Eye-gouging
    • Heart-digging
    • Disembowelment: Sinners have their internal organs dug out.
    • Skinning
    • Severing fingers and toes
  • Ice World: Sinners are frozen in ice. Some depictions show unclothed sinners suffering frostbite in an icy world. Their bodies eventually fall apart or break into pieces.
  • Scales and hooks torture: Sinners are pierced by hooks and hung upside-down. Some depictions show sinners having nails hammered into them (similar to crucifixion).
  • Pool of Blood: Sinners are cast into a pool of blood. Blood spills from all bodily orifices.
  • Tortures involving beasts: Sinners are trampled by cattle, gored by beasts with horns or tusks, mauled or eaten by predators, stung or bitten by poisonous species et cetera.
  • Avīci: The period of suffering in this chamber is the longest and it is reserved for sinners who have committed heinous crimes, including the Five Grave Offences.

Some literature refers to eighteen types of hells or to eighteen hells for each type of punishment. Some religious or literature books say that wrong-doers who were not punished when they were alive are punished in the hells after death.[16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32]

Alternate names for hell[edit]

Among the more common Chinese names for the Underworld are:

Other terminology related to hell includes:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 北京的寺廟-4. (2007年07月25日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  2. ^ 上鍊經第十. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  3. ^ 诸经佛说地狱集要. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  4. ^ 汉魏六朝佛教之“地狱”说(上). (2006年12月22日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  5. ^ 汉魏六朝佛教之“地狱”说(下). (2006年12月22日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  6. ^ 華雨集第四冊05. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  7. ^ 泰山崇拜与东岳泰山神的形成. (2008年03月03日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  8. ^ 山不在高,有仙則名──論泰山、上古神山與生死[dead link]
  9. ^ 蒿里山[dead link]
  10. ^ 有“十八层地狱”的宫观——东岳庙. (2009年04月30日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  11. ^ 觀靈實錄-枉死城系列報導PDF電子書. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  12. ^ 枉死城遊記
  13. ^ 三. 枉死城亡魂戒改. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  14. ^ 牽亡魂-國家之窗. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  15. ^ 《最新落陰相褒歌》內容概述[dead link]
  16. ^ 勿闖鬼門關
  17. ^ 薜福成. 庸盦筆記
  18. ^ 地獄篇. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  19. ^ D因果故事新輯7
  20. ^ 瀕死體驗(新). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  21. ^ 劫後陰間新聞
  22. ^ 圆寂复魂师地狱游记(一). (2010年03月11日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  23. ^ 因果轮回实录. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  24. ^ 天神記(四. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  25. ^ 敦煌写经·黃仕強傳. (2011年11月08日). Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  26. ^ 九、唐太宗入冥記. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  27. ^ 《風雲道者經典錄》叢書. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  28. ^ 地獄見聞錄
  29. ^ 阴律无情官方网站. Retrieved on 2011年11月14日.
  30. ^ 一位佛门通灵人的地狱见闻
  31. ^ 二下地狱和水域见闻_留惑润生_新浪博客
  32. ^ 当代一位特异功能人看到的奇异死后世芥(转载)_莲蓬鬼话_天涯论坛

External links[edit]