Oh Hell

It occurred to me that some of our readers may also have occasion to teach about Chinese conceptions of the afterlife, and specifically Chinese Hell. I got some pictures of Hell while I was in Xian, specifically at the Daxingshan Temple. Like a lot of sites it Xian it has a very old history, but much of what is there now is quite recent. Also like many mainland temples it is pretty eclectic in its Buddhism, with Tibetan-style prayer wheels..

and a pond full of animals that have benevolently not been eaten

Lots of mainland temples seem to assume that you received very little religious instruction and thus you will need to learn about it here. Thus they have a nice Hell room, that illustrates the punishments that you can expect if you misbehave. My apologies for the picture quality, as it was kind of dark, my camera and skills were poor, and I was reluctant to disturb the occasional worshiper.

Like Dante’s version, the Chinese Hell has specific punishments for specific sins.

Kidnappers are sawed in half.

I think these are rapists and sex offenders being boiled in oil

I think it is greedy people who are ground up

The wok

The whole place is of course presided over by the Kings of Hell

not my picture

and the Buddhas also look over the place

Chinese Hell, is of course more like Purgatory. You go there, get punished for your sins and then move on. In this case you drink the broth of oblivion to make you forget both hell and your past life

and then head back to be re-born

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Hell, and more importantly, that you will go beyond being titillated by cool pictures and actually take these lessons to heart.


  1. Thank you for posting these images. I visited this temple about a year and a half ago, on the way to a Taoist retreat in Wudang. As soon as I saw these (probably a little repressed in my memory), that day at the temple, strange and rainy, came back to me. A monk from Daxingshan, apparently a little at sea — his master had just died — decided to join us wannabe Taoists on our journey. Until now, I had forgotten even what temple it was.

    Thanks for your interesting blog.

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