By Yona Williams
When people prayed to the god of the household, they sent their thoughts to the Kitchen God, Zao-jun, whose name literally translates into 'stove spirit' or 'stove god.' Out of all the domestic gods associated with Chinese mythology, he is known as one of the most important.
Zao-jun is a god that protects the hearth and family. It is thought that on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, Zao-jun reports the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). He returns to Heaven to make his report just before the Chinese New Year. The Jade Emperor (the emperor of the heavens) would either punish or give rewards to a family based on what Zao Jun had reported.
Stories involving the Kitchen God date back to the 2nd century BC. He was originally a mortal who lived on earth under the name of Zhang Lang. He eventually took a wife – becoming married to a virtuous woman. However, he ended up falling in love with a younger woman and left his wife for the other. The adulterous act led to punishment, as the heavens made sure that he had to deal with bad fortune. He lost his sight and his young lover left him. His health condition forced him to beg as a way to support himself.
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