Folk Beliefs
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Life cycle
Myths

Chinese Belief- Hell

The informant is an eighteen-year old student from Los Angeles. He was born in Taipei and received schooling in America. He had been studying in Taipei before moving back to the United States for university. He speaks Chinese and English and will be referred to in this transcript as “GS.” This paraphrased account details the Chinese belief of Heaven and Hell.

GS: In Hell, there’s a district attorney who will judge you in court when you’re sent to Hell, and based on what you say, he’ll decide which level of hell you go to. There are eighteen levels of Hell, the eighteenth’s the worst level of Hell. Sometimes parents will scare their children that if they keep doing bad things, they’ll go to the 18th layer of Hell. One of the interesting punishments is called Knife Mountain and the oil pot. If you do bad things and go to Hell, little ghosts or demon things will make you walk on Knife (or Blade) Mountain and then after you go up and down Blade Mountain, you’ll get thrown into a boiling pot of oil.

GS goes on to explain that this process is repeated through all eternity. As he says, repetition is a key part of the punishment, as the person will have to suffer through the same punishment without end.

Though he glossed over the use of the story as a morality warning, I feel this is the most important part of the story. GS does not literally believe in this vision of Hell. However, he states that it is used to keep children from behaving badly. Indeed, this portrayal of Hell involves very physical forms of punishment: In fact, they relate to cooking and the kitchen (Knife Mountain and boiling oil). As a child, the kitchen may be the most dangerous place they will encounter on a daily basis, particularly around cooking time. Thus, the threats presented in this version of Hell are made to be very relatable to the dangers of a kitchen for a small child. This makes the threat a tangible one, and thus far more scary than any abstract concept of suffering. As an exaggerated form of pain possible in the mortal realm, it effectively can be used to scare children into good behavior.

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