||It has been suggested that this article be merged with Joss paper. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2013.|
Hell money is a form of joss paper printed to resemble legal tender bank notes. This faux money has been in use since at least the late 19th century and possibly much earlier. Early 20th century examples took the resemblance of minor commercial currency of the type issued by businesses across China until the mid-1940s. The notes are not an officially recognized currency or legal tender since their sole intended purpose is to be offered as burnt-offerings to the deceased as often practiced by the Chinese and several East Asian cultures.
The identification of this type of joss paper as "hell bank notes" or "hell money" and singling them out is largely a western phenomenon, since these items are simply regarded as yet another form of joss paper (冥幣, 陰司紙, 紙錢, or 金紙) in East Asian cultures and have no special name or status.
The name "hell" 
The word hell on hell bank notes refers to Diyu (simplified Chinese: 地狱; traditional Chinese: 地獄; pinyin: dìyù, meaning "underworld prison"), which is also called dìfǔ (Chinese: 地府; meaning "underworld court"). These words are printed on some notes. In traditional Chinese beliefs, it is thought to be where the souls of the dead are first judged by the Lord of the Earthly Court (Yan Wang). After being judged they are either escorted to heaven or sent into the maze of underground levels and chambers to atone for their sins. People believe that even in the earthly court, spirits need to use money.
A story says that the word hell was introduced to China by Christian missionaries, who preached that all non-Christian Chinese people would "go to hell" when they died, and through a case of misinterpretation, it was believed that the word "Hell" was the proper English term for the afterlife, and hence the word was adopted. However, some printed notes omit the word "hell" and sometimes will replace it with "heaven" or "paradise". These particular bills are usually found in joss packs meant to be burned for Chinese deities. They usually have the same design as hell bank notes but with different colors.
Earlier examples of these notes were issued in denominations of $5 and $10 yuan and upwards, with such amounts being considered adequate until inflation took hold within China from 1944. The soaring denominations of authentic currency was soon reflected in that issued for the afterlife, and after 1945 the majority of Hell banknotes were issued in denominations of $10,000 or higher. These earlier issues more commonly depict landscape scenes, temples or trains, and the numerous varieties may literally number into the millions.
Modern Hell bank notes are known for their large denominations, ranging from $10,000 to several billions, and usually bear an image of the Jade Emperor, the presiding monarch of heaven in Taoism, with his signature (romanized as Yu Wong, or Yuk Wong) and the signature of Yanluo, King of Hell (閻羅). There is usually an image of the bank of Hell on the back of the notes.
A commonly sold hell bank note is the $10,000 note that is styled after the old United States Federal Reserve Note. The front side contains, apart from the portrait of the Jade Emperor, the seal of the Hell bank. The seal consists of a picture of the Hell bank itself. Many tiny, faint "Hell Bank Note"s are scattered on the back in yellow. These are sold in packs of 50 to 150, and are wrapped in cellophane.
Stores that specialize in selling ritual items, such as the Gods material shops in Malaysia, also sell larger and elaborately decorated notes that have a larger denomination than the usual $10,000 note. Some bills do not portray the Jade Emperor, and portray other famous figures from Chinese mythology instead, such as the Eight Immortals, the Buddha, Yama, or images of dragons. Some even portray famous people who are deceased, such as US President John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe.
Despite looking like play money, hell bank notes are taken seriously by many people. There are several customs and taboos regarding their proper usage.
It is highly offensive in all Chinese communities to give a hell bank note to a living person as a gift. When burning the notes, the notes are placed as a loose bundle, in a manner considered respectful. Alternatively, in some customs, each bank note may be folded in a specific way before being tossed into the fire because of the belief that burning real money brings bad luck.
While the custom of burning hell bank notes is legal and still commonly practiced in China, other burnt paper offerings for the deceased, which include "luxury villas, sedan cars, mistresses and other messy sacrificial items...", will, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, be subject to a ban from 2006 onwards, said to be a feudal superstition.
See also 
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (August 2009)|
- Smith, Ward & Matravers, Brian (1970). Chinese Banknotes, p.144. Shirjieh Publishers, Menlo Park, California
- World Paper Money
- Smith, Ward & Matravers, Brian (1970). Chinese Banknotes, p.144-145. Shirjieh Publishers, Menlo Park, California
- Smith, Ward & Matravers, Brian (1970). Chinese Banknotes, p. 144. Shirjieh Publishers, Menlo Park, California