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.

Joseph Campbell on Being Born in Interesting Times

“I have read somewhere of an old Chinese curse: ‘May you be born in an interesting time!’ This is a VERY interesting time: there are no models for ANYTHING that is going on. It is a period of free fall into the future, and each has to make his or her own way. The old models are not working; the new have not yet appeared. In fact, it is we who are even now shaping the new in the shaping of our interesting lives. And that is the whole sense (in mythological terms) of the present challenge: we are the ‘ancestors’ of an age to come, the unwitting generators of its supporting myths,the mythic models that will inspire its lives.”

~ Joseph Campbell

Archaeological Finds 2020: 6000 ancient tombs spanning more than 2000 years discovered in Sichuan province, China

The tombs date from various dynasties and were discovered during construction works for the Sichuan Xinchuan Innovation and Technology Park.

Excavations began in 2015, but the results of the ongoing discoveries have finally been announced by the Chengdu Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

The tombs range from the Warring States Period (475 BC), the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC), the Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220), the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (AD 907–979), the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644) and the Qing Dynasty (AD 1636–1912).

Most of the tombs are carved into a small cliff face as rock pit tombs or constructed from brick and have contained tens of thousands of pieces of pottery, porcelain, copper, iron, glass, coins and stone artefacts. The team have also discovered cultural relics such as a gilt-bronze knife, Buddha statues, painted figurines and painted miniature pottery houses.

Zhang Heng

Zhang Heng was born in 78 CE in the town of Xi’e, in what is now Henan Province, in Han Dynasty China. At 17, he left home to study literature and train to be a writer. By his late 20s, Zhang had become a skilled mathematician and was called to the court of Emperor An-ti, who, in 115 CE, made him Chief Astrologer.

Zhang lived at a time of rapid advances in science. In addition to his astronomical work, he devised a water-powered armillary sphere (a model of the celestial objects) and invented the world’s first seismometer, which was ridiculed until, in 138 CE, it successfully recorded an earthquake 250 miles (400 km) away. He also invented the first odometer to measure distances traveled in vehicles, and a nonmagnetic, south-pointing compass in the form of a chariot. Zhang was a distinguished poet, whose works give us vivid insights into the cultural life of his day.

Chinese Thought: Confucius 孔子 (551–479 BCE)

Confucius (551–479 BCE) is the most celebrated figure in China’s history. He was a teacher, advisor, editor, philosopher, reformer, and prophet. His thought and philosophy form the basis of Confucian or Ru thought in China and the entire moral codes of China and other East Asian countries like Japan and Korea. Whereas in the West follows Judeo-Christian ethics, in China people live by a Confucian code of ethics.

Confucian philosophy is rooted in the concept of ren or compassion and love for others. This involves deprecating yourself as you show concern for others. Confucius’s golden rule was ‘What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.’ He also believed in the importance of reciprocal relationships: ruler to subject, father to son, husband to wife, brother to brother and friend to friend. In each relationship there is responsibility on the side of both parties. For example, a husband treats his wife with kindness and she, in return, is obedient and loyal. One’s place and status in society are also important. Confucius’s sayings were collected by his disciples and compiled into a book called The Analects.

In Imperial China, Confucius was identified with interpretations of the classics and moral guidelines for administrators, and therefore also with training the scholar-officials that populated the bureaucracy. At the same time, he was closely associated with the transmission of the ancient sacrificial system, and he himself received ritual offerings in temples found in all major cities. By the Han Period (202 BCE–220 CE), Confucius was already an authoritative figure in a number of different cultural domains, and the early commentaries show that reading texts associated with him about history, ritual, and proper behavior was important to rulers. The first commentaries to the Analects were written by tutors to the crown prince and select experts in the “Five Classics” (Wujing 五經) were given scholastic positions in the government. The authority of Confucius was such that during the late Han and the following period of disunity, his imprimatur was used to validate commentaries to the classics, encoded political prophecies, and esoteric doctrines.

By the Song period (960–1279), the post-Buddhist revival known as “Neo-Confucianism” anchored readings of the dialogues of Confucius to a dualism between cosmic pattern, distinctive moral cosmology that marked the tradition off from those of Buddhism and Taoism. The Neo-Confucian interpretation of the Analects by Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) integrated the study of the Analects into a curriculum based on the “Four Books” that became widely influential in China, Korea, and Japan. The pre-modern Confucius was closely associated with good government, moral education, proper ritual performance, and the reciprocal obligations that people in different roles owed each other in such contexts.