The Emperor In Hell

The Emperor In Hell (地狱里的皇帝)


A Story in Simplified Chinese and Pinyin, 600 Word Vocabulary Level

Book 5 of the Journey To The West Series

By Jeff Pepper and Xiao Hui Wang

This book is based on chapters 9, 10 and 11 of Journey To The West (西游记, xī yóu jì), an epic novel written in the 16th Century by Wu Chen’en. Journey To The West is loosely based on an actual journey by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, who traveled from the Chinese city of Chang’an westward to India in 629 A.D. and returned 17 years later with priceless knowledge and texts of Buddhism. Over the course of the book the band of travelers face the 81 tribulations that Xuanzang had to endure to attain Buddhahood.

Each book in our Journey to the West series covers a short section of the original 2,000-page novel. The first three books in the series – The Rise of the Monkey King, Trouble in Heaven and The Immortal Peaches – all focus on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, and the fourth book, The Young Monk, introduces Xuanzang.

This book, the fifth in the series, tells the last story leading up to the actual journey to the west, which starts in Book 6. While the book has some light moments, it also has some of the darkest and most frightening scenes of all the stories we’ve told so far, with a series of horrifying visions of after-death punishment of evildoers that are reminiscent of those in Dante’s Inferno.

The story starts innocently enough, with two good friends chatting as they walk home after eating and drinking at a local inn. One of the men, a fisherman, tells his friend about a fortuneteller who advises him on where to find fish. This seemingly harmless conversation between two minor characters triggers a series of events that eventually cost the life of a supposedly immortal being, and cause the great Tang Emperor himself to be dragged down to the underworld.

In Chinese popular religion, the underworld (地狱, dìyù, literally “ground prison”) is not a final destination for sinners as hell is for Christians, but a transitory place that every deceased soul must pass through. The cosmos is divided into three domains: Earth, Heaven, and the underworld. Every being has a soul that survives after death, and upon death, the soul leaves the body and travels to the underworld, where it is judged, punished if necessary, and then assigned to its next earthly life for rebirth.

For the Chinese, the underworld is a stable and orderly place, with clerks, bureaucrats, ministers and kings all charged with keeping the afterlife running smoothly. As the Emperor Taizong discovers, there are even opportunities for financial transactions! The underworld looks a lot like the Earth, except that its inhabitants are all deceased souls waiting for reincarnation.

As you can see from the cover illustration, souls leave the underworld via the great Wheel of Rebirth. Six paths lead out of the underworld, each one leading to a Gate of Rebirth. Five of the paths are desirable (or at least tolerable), but a sixth one, the Path of Demons, is reserved for souls who must reincarnate as demons and monsters.

Taizong, the hero of the story in this book, was already a wise and compassionate ruler before his unexpected death, journey through the underworld, and return to life. He emerges with even more resolve to rule in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha. We will see later in Book 6 that he will need all his inner strength and clarity of vision to properly set Xuanzang on the path to the west.

All of the stories in this series are all written in simple language suitable for beginning Chinese learners at the 600-word HSK 3 level. Whenever we introduce a word or phrase that isn’t part of HSK 3 and was not already defined in a previous book, it’s defined in a footnote on the page where it first appears. All words are listed in the glossary at the end, where we also note whether a word is part of HSK 3 or, if not, in which book it first appears.

In the main body of the book, each page of Chinese characters is matched with a facing page of pinyin. This is unusual for Chinese novels but we feel it’s important. By including the pinyin, as well as a full English version and glossary at the end, we hope that every reader, no matter what level of mastery they have of the Chinese language, will be able to understand and enjoy the story we tell here.

Free Learning Tools For Students and Teachers

Excerpt from “The Emperor In Hell” (English Version).  The complete English  text is included in the book.

My dear child, I know you are tired.  But tonight I have a good story to tell you!  I will tell you about three powerful and famous people: an emperor who lived in a palace in Chang’an, the emperor’s wise prime minister, and a dragon king who lived under the river.

People say that a great river always starts as a tiny stream.  And so, tonight’s story begins with two ordinary people, a woodsman and a fisherman.  These two were not scholars, but they were intelligent men and they loved to talk.  They were also very good friends.  Every day the fisherman sold the fish that he had caught, and the woodsman sold the wood that he had cut.  At the end of the day they met at a tavern to eat dinner, drink wine and talk.

One evening, after they were done eating and drinking, they walked side by side on a small path alongside the Jing River to return home.  They were both a little drunk, and each held a bottle of wine in his hand.

“My friend,” said the woodsman, “I think that people who want to be famous will lose their lives because of fame, and people who want to be rich will be unhappy because of their money.  Our lives are much better, because we are not famous and we have no money.  We live in the beautiful mountains near the river.  What more could we want?”

“You are correct,” said the fisherman, “we both have happy lives, and we both live in beautiful places.  But my river is much better than your mountains.  Every day I sail in my little boat.  My friends are the sun and wind, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the river.  Every day I see my wife and son.  My mind is clear, I have no worries, and I sleep very well at night.”

“No, my friend,” said the woodsman, “you are wrong.  My forest is much better than your river.  Every day in spring I walk through the woods, listening happily to the song of the birds.  Summer comes, and the fragrance of flowers is all around me. Then autumn arrives, and then the cold of winter.  I have no king and no master.  I am happy in all four seasons!”

The woodsman and the fisherman walked home this way, talking about their lives, their jobs and their families.  Each one said that his life was better than the other’s.  Finally, they came to a place where one road went east and the other went west, and it was time for the two friends to say goodbye.   “Be careful, my old friend,” said the fisherman.  “When you climb your mountain tomorrow, be careful and watch for tigers.  If the tiger were to eat you, I would miss you!”

The woodsman became angry at this, and shouted “You fool!  Good friends would die for each other.  But now you say that I might be eaten by a tiger?  Well, maybe you will fall into the river and die!  Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.”

The fisherman was not angry.  He replied, “Ah, but I do know what will happen tomorrow.”

“How can you know that?” cried the woodsman.

The fisherman said, “I will tell you a secret.  In the city of Chang’an, on a small street near the west gate, there is a man who can see the future.  Every day I go and find him.  I give him a fish, and he tells me where to find more fish the next day.  I have listened to him a hundred times, and he is never wrong.  Just today, he told me where to catch fish tomorrow in the Jing River.  I will do as he says.  Tomorrow I will sell many fish, and I will buy you a bottle of fine wine!”

After that, the woodsman and the fisherman each went to their homes.  But that is not the end of our story, because you know the old saying, “words said on the road are heard in the grass”.  A river spirit was nearby.  He heard the fisherman say that he had caught many fish for a hundred days in a row.  The river spirit was very frightened.  He rushed to the palace of the Dragon King of the Jing River, shouting “Disaster!  Disaster!”

“What kind of disaster?” asked the Dragon King.

The river spirit replied, “Just now I was in the river near a small path.  I heard two men talking.  One of them, a fisherman, said that every day he goes to see a man in Chang’an who can see the future.  This man tells the fisherman where to fish the next day.  And he is never wrong!  You must do something.  If you don’t, the fisherman will catch all the fish in the river and we will all die!”

The Dragon King became very angry.  He picked up his sword and started to rush out of his palace to kill the man.  But before he could leave, one of his ministers said “Your Majesty, please wait, don’t do this!  You are the King of Eight Rivers and you can change the weather. If you go to Chang’an in anger, you will bring great thunder and heavy rains to the city.  The people will be frightened, and Heaven will be angry with you.  Instead, go slowly and quietly and learn more about this man.  You can change into any man or animal.  So, change into a man and go see him.  Then you can decide what to do.”


These are all the new Chinese words used in this book that are not in HSK-3:

Chinese pinyin English Used In
安全 ānquán safety 1
八河大王 Bāhé Dàwáng King of Eight Rivers 5
白天 báitiān day, daytime 1
半夜 bànyè midnight 5
抱住 bào zhù to surround,to hold 1
包住 bāo zhù to surround 5
宝座 bǎozuò throne 2
bèn stupid 2
闭,闭上 bì, bì shàng to shut, to close up 4
biān side 1
变成 biànchéng to become 3
bìng disease 5
陛下 bìxià Your  Majesty 5
不用 bùyòng no need to 4
财富 cáifù wealth 5
才能 cáinéng ability, talent, only can 3
草地 cǎodì grassland 3
céng (measure word), layer 5
cháng long 4
chǎng (measure word) 4
长安 Chang’an Chang’an (a city) 4
长生 chángshēng longevity 1
惩罚 chéngfá punishment 5
成为 chéngwéi to become 4
丞相 chéngxiàng prime minister 4
chǐ Chinese foot 5
穿上 chuān shàng to put on 1
chuáng (measure word) 2
chuáng bed 4
chuī to blow 1
出来 chūlái to come out 1
春天 chūntiān spring 4
出去 chūqù to go out 3
出生 chūshēng born 1
崔珏 Cui Jue Cui Jue (name) 5
cùn Chinese inch 3
to hit 1
大喊 dà hǎn to shout 2
打坏 dǎ huài to hit badly, to bash 3
大臣 dàchén minister, court official 2
带路 dàilù lead the way 1
大将 dàjiàng general, high ranking officer 2
打开 dǎkāi to open up 1
大声 dàshēng loudly 2
大王 dàwáng king 2
(prefix before number) 1
diào to fall, to drop 3
钓, 钓鱼 diào, diàoyú to fish 1
地球 dìqiú earth 1
地狱 dìyù underworld 1
dòng to move 2
bet 3
法官 fǎguān judge 5
fàn cooked rice 2
反对 fǎnduì oppose 5
房子 fángzi house 2
fēi to fly 2
fēng (measure word) 2
fēng wind 2
fó, fú buddha (title) 3
佛法 fófǎ Buddha’s teachings 4
感到 gǎndào to feel 1
gāng just 1
感谢 gǎnxiè thank 4
gēn (measure word) 2
gong, gōngdiàn royal palace 1
棺材 guāncai coffin 5
观音 Guānyīn Guanyin (name) 3
guǐ ghost 5
过来 guòlái to come  over 2
国王 guówáng king 2
hǎi sea 1
还有 hái yǒu also have 3
hǎn to shout 2
喊叫 hǎn jiào to shout, to cry out 1
河流 héliú river current 1
很久 hěnjiǔ long time 2
和平 hépíng peace 3
和尚 héshàng monk 3
hòu rear 1
后来 hòulái later 2
huà words 1
皇帝 huángdì emperor 3
花园 huāyuán garden 3
回到 huí dào come back 2
回家 huí jiā to return home 3
回去 huíqù to go back 4
huó to live 1
huò or 1
火炬 huǒjù torch 5
胡子 húzi moustache 5
记住 jì zhù to remember 4
jiā plus 5
jiàn sword 5
级别 jíbié level or rank 2
jīn gold 2
Jīng hé Jing River 5
进来 jìnlái to come in 2
进去 jìnqù to go in 2
进入 jìnrù to enter 3
jiǔ wine, liquor 1
就要 jiù yào about to, going to 3
就这样 jiù zhèyàng that’s it, in this way 4
酒店 jiǔdiàn hotel 4
继续 jìxù to continue 4
鞠躬 jūgōng to bow down 1
开心 kāixīn happy 1
kǎn to cut 1
看不见 kàn bùjiàn look but can’t see 4
可怕 kěpà terrible 1
kuān width 5
盔甲 kuījiǎ armor 2
捆住 kǔn zhù to tie up 3
to pull down 5
lán blue 3
栏杆 lángān railing 5
老虎 lǎohǔ tiger 3
léi thunder 1
雷电 léidiàn lightning 1
Chinese mile 1
liàng bright 5
厉害 lìhài amazing 3
里面 lǐmiàn inside 1
lìng another 2
灵魂 línghún soul 4
liú to flow 1
liú to stay 2
lóng dragon 2
龙王 Lóng Wáng Dragon King 2
lún wheel 2
路上 lùshàng on the road 2
麻烦 máfan trouble 1
毛笔 máobǐ writing brush 2
měi handsome, beautiful 1
没问题 méi wèntí no problem 1
美丽 měilì beautiful 1
每天 měitiān every day 1
men (plural) 1
mèng dream 2
面前 miànqián in front 4
miào temple 3
秘密 mìmì secret 1
魔鬼 móguǐ devil 5
木头 mù tou wood 1
那里 nàlǐ there 1
哪里 nǎlǐ where 1
那么 nàme so then 1
南瓜 nánguā pumpkin 5
那些 nàxiē those ones 1
那样 nàyàng that way 1
to climb 1
afraid 1
牌子 páizi sign 2
pǎo to run 1
(measure word) 5
píng bottle 1
仆人 púrén servant 4
葡萄酒 pútáojiǔ wine 3
普通 pǔtōng ordinary 5
chess 5
qián before 2
强大 qiángdà powerful 2
qiáo bridge 1
起来 qǐlái up 1
亲爱的 qīn’ài de dear 1
情况 qíngkuàng situation 3
旗子 qízi flag 2
qún group 4
人间 rénjiān human world 2
人们 rénmen people 3
荣誉 róngyù honor 4
into 4
sān thirty (ancient word) 5
森林 sēnlín forest 1
shā to kill 2
shān mountain 1
伤害 shānghài to hurt 2
上天 shàngtiān heaven 1
shé snake 3
shén spirit, god 3
身边 shēnbiān around 5
生活 shēnghuó life, to live 1
生命 shēngmìng life 2
生死簿 Shēngsǐ Bù Book of Life and Death 2
生物 shēngwù living beings 2
绳子 shéngzi rope 3
身上 shēnshang on one’s body 1
shì thing 1
是不是 shì bùshì is or is not? 2
是的 shì de yes, it is 2
shǒu hand 1
手指 shǒuzhǐ finger 3
shū to lose 1
shuì to sleep 1
睡不着 shuì bùzháo can’t sleep 5
水陆大会 Shuǐlù Dàhuì Great Mass of Land and Water 5
睡着 shuìzhe sleeping 3
树林 shùlín forest 1
dead 1
四周 sì zhōu around 3
孙悟空 Sūn Wùkōng Sun Wukong (name) 1
所有 suǒyǒu all 1
tower 5
tái to lift 4
太宗 Tàizōng Taizong (name) 4
tán to talk 5
tāng soup 5
táo peach 2
tiān day, sky 1
天法 tiān fǎ heaven’s law 1
天上 tiānshàng heaven 2
tóng same 3
tóu head 1
tuī to push 5
外面 wàimiàn outside 1
wǎn late, night 1
晚些时候 wǎn xiē shíhòu later 5
晚安 wǎn’ān good night 1
晚饭 wǎnfàn dinner 4
王母娘娘 Wángmǔ Niáng Niáng Queen Mother 3
Wèi Wei (name) 4
未来 wèilái future 5
无用 wúyòng useless 5
stream 5
下来 xiàlái down 1
下面 xiàmiàn below 2
xiāng fragrant 3
Xiāng Xiang (name) 5
想要 xiǎng yào to want 4
向上 xiàngshàng upwards 2
xīn heart 4
xǐng to wake up 2
幸福 xìngfú happy 1
心跳 xīntiào heartbeat 5
兄弟 xiōngdì brothers 1
玄奘 Xuanzang Xuanzang (name) 4
许多 xǔduō a lot of 1
xuè blood 4
yáng goat or sheep 5
妖怪 yāoguài monster 1
yín silver 5
一生 yīshēng lifetime 1
以下 yǐxià a bit 1
一些 yīxiē some 1
yòng to use 1
yóu to swim, to tour 4
又是 yòu shì again 3
幽冥黑山 Yōumíng Hēishān Mountain of Darkness 5
有人 yǒurén someone 2
有些 yǒuxiē some 1
rain 4
玉皇大帝 Yùhuáng Dàdì Jade Emperor 1
再一次 zài yīcì one more time 3
zàng dirty 5
zǎo early 4
战斗 zhàndòu fighting 2
这么 zhème such 2
这些 zhèxiē these 1
这样 zhèyàng such 1
只能 zhǐ néng can only 4
只是 zhǐshì just 2
只要 zhǐyào as long as 5
zhōng in 1
Zhu Zhu (name) 5
zhuā zhù
to grab, to arrest 2
转轮藏 Zhuǎn Lúncáng Wheel of Rebirth 5
主人 zhǔrén host, master 5
走路 zǒulù to walk down a road 1
zuì drunk 3
zuò (measure word) 3
祖师 zǔshī founder, great teacher 1