Journey to Hell, Featuring Torture and Never-ending Bureaucracy: Understanding the Underworld in Chinese Mythology | Ancient Origins Members Site


Journey to Hell, Featuring Torture and Never-ending Bureaucracy: Understanding the Underworld in Chinese Mythology

Journey to Hell, Featuring Torture and Never-ending Bureaucracy: Understanding the Underworld in Chinese Mythology

“Each of the criminals is bound to an iron pillar and the ox-headed demon is in the process of administering punishment—using iron or copper blades he peels the skin of the person's face, just as a butcher kills a pig and then flays it.”

This passage is found in a Chinese Shanshu (“good book” or “morality book”) titled Diyu yu-chi (roughly translated as “Record of a Journey to Hell”). The book emerged in tenth century China and talks about the things that one would find in hell which, of course, included many forms of torture.

The underworld in Chinese Mythology, Diyu (literally means “earth prison”), is where the souls of the deceased are held accountable for their actions in life before they are reincarnated. The exact number of levels in Diyu and their associated deities differ between Buddhist and Taoist interpretations. Some speak of "Ten Courts of Hell", each of which is ruled by a judge, and others speak of the "Eighteen Levels of Hell". Each court deals with different punishments and a different aspect of atonement.

However, the underworld in Chinese mythology has an interesting concept that distinguishes it from other cultures. According to the ancient Chinese belief, the underworld is simultaneously a place of vicious physical tortures, and a particularly nasty and intractable bureaucracy— the sixth court of hell, for example, is named “Screaming Torture and Administrative Errors.”


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