The 18 Levels of Hell in Chinese Mythology

Buddhism and Taoism—the main religions of China—both have different interpretations of hell and how it is structured, but what they can both agree on is this: Sinners who accumulate bad karma during their lives have to atone for their sins after their death. Their souls are therefore taken into hell, a fiery place consisting of several layers, courts, or circles, each doling out a different punishment for specific sins.

A big difference between the Chinese hell and the concept of hell most known in Christianity is that in Chinese hell, souls are not necessarily condemned to eternal damnation. While broadly believed in Western culture that sinners have to suffer in hell until the second coming of Christ, the Chinese version of hell is more of a purgatory, where souls are able to eventually leave and be reincarnated back into the world once they have done their time.

  • Hell of Tongue-ripping, where those who gossip and spread trouble with their words will repeatedly have their tongues ripped out.
  • Hell of Scissors, where those who destroy someone else’s marriage will have their fingers repeatedly cut off.
  • Hell of Trees of Knives, where those who sow discord amongst family members will be repeatedly hung from trees made of sharp knives.
  • Hell of Mirrors of Retribution, where those who have managed to escape punishment for their crimes while alive will be repeatedly shown their true horrific selves.
  • Hell of Steamers, where hypocrites and troublemakers will repeatedly be steamed “alive.”
  • Hell of Copper Pillars, where arsonists will be repeatedly chained to red-hot pillars of copper.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Knives, where those who have killed for pleasure or without good reason will repeatedly be made to climb a mountain made of sharp blades sticking out of it.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Ice, where adulterers, deceivers of elders, and schemers will be repeatedly left out on a barren mountain of ice to freeze.
  • Hell of the Cauldrons of Oil, where rapists, thieves, abusers, and false accusers will be repeatedly fried in vats of boiling oil.
  • Hell of the Cattle Pit, where those who have abused animals will repeatedly be hurt by animals in turn.
  • Hell of the Crushing Boulder, where those who have abandoned or killed children will repeatedly be made to hold up heavy boulders, eventually being crushed by its weight.
  • Hell of Mortars and Pestles, where those who voluntarily waste food will repeatedly be force-fed hell fire by demons.
  • Hell of the Blood Pool, where those who disrespect others will be thrown in and submerged into a pool of blood.
  • Hell of the Wrongful Dead, where those who have commited suicide—considered deliberately going against the karmic course of the universe—will be force to repeatedly wander the realm without a way out, while being pelted constantly by the Winds of Sorrow and the Rains of Pain.
  • Hell of Dismemberment, where tomb raiders will have their bodies repeatedly be torn into pieces.
  • Hell of the Mountain of Fire, where thieves, robbers, and the corrupt will be repeatedly thrown into the fiery pits of an active volcano.
  • Hell of Mills, where those who have misused their power to oppress the weak will repeatedly be crushed in a stone mill.
  • Hell of Saws, where those who have engaged in unethical or unfair business practises, or exploited loopholes in the legal system, will be repeatedly sawn in half by demons with saws.

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