What I learned in Singapore part 1: How to avoid being grilled on a red hot pillar

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 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 every gruesome details of the very 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.’ 1st-horse-faceYou 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
Crime Punishment
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
Crime Punishment
Ungratefulness Heart cut-out
Disrespect to elders
Escape from prison
Drug addits & traffickers Tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled
Tomb robbers
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. 3rd-heart-cut-out-grilled

The crimes become very specific, such as in the ‘forth’ court:

Forth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
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:
4th-pounded-by-stone-mallet

Fifth Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
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!