The best part of travelling is learning about the values and traditions of other cultures. Like the Ten Courts of Hell, a vision of the afterlife recreated in dioramas at Haw Par Villa in Singapore.
Built in 1937, Haw Par still attracts local school groups and confused tourists. The Ten Courts is its most baffling exhibition. A sign out front reads: The “Ten Courts of Hell” is dedicated to the teachings of traditional Chinese folklore. Due to the graphics [sic] nature of the exhibits, viewers’ discretion and parental guidance are advised.
Despite this warning, the cavern containing the Ten Courts of Hell was full of children learning the gruesome details of the surprisingly bureaucratic division of committed crimes and corresponding punishments among the ten courts.
When you die, you either go straight to Heaven or end up at the First Court of Hell, which is guarded by ‘Horse-Face’ and ‘Ox-Head.’ You pass through each court and are judged based on your particular crimes. As you can see, the punishments are specific and inventive:
|Second Court of Hell|
|Inflicting physical injury||Thrown into volcanic pit|
|Conmen and robbers|
|Corruption||Frozen into blocks of ice|
|Stealing and gambling|
|Prostitutes||Thrown into a pool of blood and drowned|
|Third Court of Hell|
|Disrespect to elders|
|Escape from prison|
|Drug addicts & traffickers||Tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled|
|Urging people into crime and social unrest|
Each court has its own diorama, positioned at the eye-level of a typical primary-school student. Here you can see a prison escapee having his heart cut out, and what might be a tomb robber being grilled on a pole.
The crimes become very specific, such as in the ‘forth’ court:
|Forth Court of Hell|
|Tax dodger, business fraud||Pounded by stone mallet|
|Refusal to pay rent|
|Disobedience to one’s siblings||Grounded by a large stone|
|Lack of filial piety|
Here are either some tax dodgers being pounded, or some disobedient family members being grounded, I’m not sure:
|Fifth Court of Hell|
|Plotted another’s death for his property or money||Thrown onto a hill of knives|
|Money lenders with exorbitant interest rates|
|The Viewing Home Tower is for the evildoers to see how their relatives and family are suffering as a result of their wrong-doings.|
I’m not sure about that last bit of info on the Viewing Home Tower – does it mean you can just stop by and see how your ancestors are being tortured? This would be an effective deterrent to plotting another’s death.
Courts six through eight offer more examples of creative punishment – and fashion sense!