Asian Geographic

The Hell of All Hells

A Pit of Endless Torment


Since antiquity, the concept of hell has existed in many civilisati­ons. For equally as long, humans have also been kept in line by fear of ghastly, eternal torment after death.

Of these versions of the afterworld, the Chinese have a distinct vision of hell, which is arguably the most torturous. Even among the Chinese, what exactly “hell” constitute­s is often debated.

This is caused by the two most common names for the Chinese version of hell being contradict­ory. It can be referred to as shi ba cen di yu, or the Eighteen Layers of Hell, or shidian yan luo, or the Ten Courts of Hell.

There is no shortage of gruesome punishment in the Chinese version of the afterworld. There are freezing caverns, dismemberm­ent racks, dagger pits, and more. Like Dante’s In

ferno, wrongdoing­s in mortal life result in very specific punishment­s here. The 10 Courts of Hell, in turn, are overseen by ten esteemed and feared judges and kings of the dead.

Whichever version of hell captivates you the most, one thing is for sure: You do not want to end up in Chinese hell.

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