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Short description: Realm of the dead or "hell" in Chinese mythology
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Diyu (simplified Chinese: 地狱; traditional Chinese: 地獄; pinyin: dìyù; literally: 'earth prison') 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 afterlife, and a variety of popular expansions and reinterpretations of these two traditions. The concept parallels purgatory in certain Christian denomininations.

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.

Alternative names


Dead of the underworld depicted in a Qing dynasty Water and Land Ritual painting.
Depiction of the punishments of Diyu at the Hell Museum, Bao Gong Temple, Singapore.

According to ideas from Taoism,[citation needed] Buddhism[1][2][3] and traditional Chinese folk religion, Diyu is a purgatory that serves to punish and renew spirits in preparation for reincarnation. 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.[4][5] At present, Fengdu and the temples on Mount Tai have been rebuilt into tourist attractions, incorporating artistic depictions of hell and the afterlife.[citation needed] Some Chinese folk religion planchette writings, such as the Taiwanese novel Journeys to the Under-World, say that new hells with new punishments are created as the world changes and that there is a City of Innocent Deaths (枉死城) designed to house those who died with grievances that have yet to be redressed.[6]

Other terminology related to Diyu includes:

  • Naihe Bridge (奈何桥; 奈何橋; Nàihé Qiáo; Nai4-ho2 Ch'iao2), "Bridge of Helplessness", a bridge every soul has to cross before being reincarnated, they are said to drink the Mengpo soup (孟婆汤) at Naihe Qiao so they will forget everything in their current lives and prepare for reincarnation.
  • Wang Xiang Tai (望乡台; 望鄉臺; Wàng Xiāng Tái; Wang4 Hsiang1 T'ai2), "Home-Viewing Pavilion", a pavilion every soul passes by on his/her journey to the Underworld. From there, they can see their families and loved ones in the world of the living.
  • Youdu (Chinese: 幽都; pinyin: Yōu Dū; Wade–Giles: You1-du1), the capital city of Diyu, generally conceived as being similar to a typical Chinese capital city, such as Chang'an, but surrounded by and pervaded with darkness.
  • Youguo (油锅; 油鍋; Yóu Guō; You2-kuo1), "Oil Cauldron", one of the tortures in hell.
  • Santu (三涂; 三塗; Sān Tú; San1-t'u2), the "Three Tortures": Fire Torture (火涂; 火塗; Huǒ Tú; Huo3-t'u2), Blade Torture (刀涂; 刀塗; Dāo Tú; Tao1-t'u2), Blood Torture (血涂; 血塗; Xuě Tú; Hsüeh3-t'u2; 'spilling of blood').

Ten Courts of Yanluo

The concept of the "Ten Courts of Yanluo" (殿) began after Chinese folk religion was influenced by Buddhism. In this variation of Chinese mythology, 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 is not forever – it depends on the severity of the sins one committed. After receiving due punishment, one will eventually be sent for reincarnation. Diyu is divided into ten courts, each overseen by a Yanwang. Souls pass from stage to stage at the decision of a different judge. The "Ten Courts of Yanluo" is also known as the Ten Courts of Yanwang (十殿阎王), Ten Lords of Minggong (冥宫十王), Ten Courts of Yan-jun (十殿阎君), Ten-Lords of Difu (地府十王), and Ten-Lords of Mingfu (冥府十王).

Ten Yanluo Lords
# Title Family name Chinese calendar
In charge of
(see the Cold and Hot Narakas for details)
1 King Qin'guang
1st day,
2nd month
Life and death and fortunes of all humans Believed to be Jiang Ziwen
2 King Chujiang
1st day,
3rd month
Sañjīva, Arbuda
3 King Songdi
8th day,
2nd month
Kālasūtra, Nirarbuda
4 King Wuguan

2nd month
Saṃghāta, Aṭaṭa
5 King Yanluo
1st month
Raurava, Hahava Believed to be Bao Zheng
6 King Biancheng
8th day,
3rd month
Mahāraurava, Huhuva, and City of Innocent Deaths
7 King Taishan
27th day,
3rd month
Tapana, Utpala
8 King Dushi
1st day,
4th month
Pratāpana, Padma
9 King Pingdeng
8th day,
4th month
Avīci, Mahāpadma
10 King Zhuanlun
17th day,
4th month
Sending souls for reincarnation

Eighteen levels of Hell

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 19th-century Chinese Hell Scroll.

The concept of the eighteen hells started in the Tang dynasty. The Buddhist text Sutra on Questions about Hell (問地獄經) mentioned 134 worlds of hell, but was simplified to the Eighteen Levels of Hell in the Sutra on the Eighteen Hells (十八泥犁經) for convenience. Some literature refers to eighteen types of hells or to eighteen hells for each type of punishment.

Some religious or literature books say that wrongdoers who were not punished when they were alive are punished in the hells after death. Sinners feel pain and agony just like living humans when they are subjected to the tortures listed below. They cannot "die" from the torture because when the ordeal is over, their bodies will be restored to their original states for the torture to be repeated.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

The eighteen hells vary from narrative to narrative but some commonly mentioned tortures include: being steamed; being fried in oil cauldrons; being sawed into half; being run over by vehicles; being pounded in a mortar and pestle; being ground in a mill; being crushed by boulders; being made to shed blood by climbing trees or mountains of knives; having sharp objects driven into their bodies; having hooks pierced into their bodies and being hung upside down; drowning in a pool of filthy blood; being left naked in the freezing cold; being set aflame or cast into infernos; being tied naked to a bronze cylinder with a fire lit at its base; being forced to consume boiling liquids; tongue ripping; eye gouging; teeth extraction; heart digging; disembowelment; skinning; being trampled, gored, mauled, eaten, stung, bitten, pecked, etc., by animals.

Eighteen Hells
# Version 1 Version 2 As mentioned in Journey to the West
1 Hell of Tongue Ripping
Naraka Hell
Hell of Hanging Bars
2 Hell of Scissors
Hell of the Mountain of Knives
Hell of the Wrongful Dead
3 Hell of Trees of Knives
Hell of Boiling Sand
Hell of the Pit of Fire
4 Hell of Mirrors of Retribution
Hell of Boiling Faeces
Fengdu Hell
5 Hell of Steaming
Hell of Darkened Bodies
Hell of Tongue Ripping
6 Hell of Copper Pillars
Hell of Fiery Chariots
Hell of Skinning
7 Hell of the Mountain of Knives
Hell of Cauldrons
Hell of Grinding
8 Hell of the Mountain of Ice
Hell of Iron Beds
Hell of Pounding
9 Hell of Oil Cauldrons
Hell of Cover Mountains
Hell of Dismemberment by Vehicles
10 Hell of the Pit of Cattle
Hell of Ice
Hell of Ice
11 Hell of Boulder Crushing
Hell of Skinning
Hell of Moulting
12 Hell of Mortars and Pestles
Hell of Beasts
Hell of Disembowelment
13 Hell of the Pool of Blood
Hell of Weapons
Hell of Oil Cauldrons
14 Hell of the Wrongful Dead
Hell of Iron Mills
Hell of Darkness
15 Hell of Dismemberment
Hell of Dismemberment
Hell of the Mountain of Knives
16 Hell of the Mountain of Fire
Hell of Iron Books
Hell of the Pool of Blood
17 Hell of Mills
Hell of Maggots
Avīci Hell
18 Hell of Sawing
Hell of Molten Copper
Hell of Weighing Scales

See also

  • Chinese mythological geography
  • Naraka (Buddhism), the Buddhist concept of Hell which is related to the Chinese concept of Diyu
  • Yama (East Asia), the wrathful deity who rules Hell in Buddhist mythology
  • Ksitigarbha, a bodhisattva who vowed never to achieve buddhahood until the hells are emptied
  • Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha's disciples and the protagonist of the Chinese tale Mulian Rescues His Mother
  • Meng Po, a deity who serves souls a potion that makes them forget their past lives before they go for reincarnation.She awaits the dead souls at the entrance of the 9th round Fengdu.
  • Ox-Head and Horse-Face, hell guards in Chinese mythology
  • Heibai Wuchang, hell guards in Chinese mythology
  • Ghost Festival, a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival celebrated in some Asian countries
  • Hell money, joss paper designed to resemble banknotes and meant to be burnt as offerings to the dead
  • Hell Scroll (Nara National Museum), a Japanese scroll depicting hells, kept at the Nara National Museum
  • Journeys to the Under-World, a Taiwanese novel narrating a journey through Diyu


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  9. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in zh). http://public.dha.ac.cn/content.aspx?id=301052650440. 
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  11. 黎澍 [Li, Shu] (March 2006) (in zh) (3rd ed.). Taipei: 淨土宗文教基金會 [Pure Land Sect Foundation]. http://www.pureland-buddhism.org/%E6%B7%A8%E5%9C%9F%E5%AE%97%E5%8F%A2%E6%9B%B8/%E5%9C%B0%E7%8D%84%E8%A6%8B%E8%81%9E%E9%8C%84/. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  12. 泰国上校真实因果轮回见证

External links