Hell money is a form of joss paper printed to resemble legal tender bank notes. The notes are not an official form of recognized currency or legal tender since their sole intended purpose is to be offered as burnt offerings to the deceased as a solution to resolve their assumed monetary problems in the afterlife. This ritual has been practiced by the modern Chinese and across East Asia since the late 19th century.
The word hell on hell bank notes refers to Diyu. These words are printed on some notes. In traditional Chinese belief, it is thought to be where the souls of the dead are first judged by the Lord of the Earthly Court, Yama (Yanluo Wang). After this particular judgment, they are either escorted to heaven or sent into the maze of underworld levels and chambers to atone for their sins. People believe that even in the earthly court, spirits need to use money.
A popular anecdote claims that the word hell was introduced to China by Christian missionaries, who preached that all non-Christian Chinese people would go to hell after death. The word “Hell” was thus misinterpreted to be the proper English term for the afterlife, and was thusly adopted as such. Some printed notes attempt to correct this by omitting the word “hell” and sometimes replacing it with “heaven” or “paradise”. These particular bills are usually found in joss packs meant to be burned for Chinese deities, and are usually differently colored but have the same design as hell bank notes.