Episode 26: Kitchen God

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In Chinese mythology, as we talked about before, on the contrary to one god belief in Christianity, there are different gods in charge of different things. In a household, there are gods in charge of the gate,the kitchen, the land. We had an episode about the gate gods and today we are going to talk about the kitchen god– ZaoShen 灶神 or ZaoWang灶王in Chinese. Zao means stove and kitchen god is basically stove god, which is one the five domestic gods. It is easy to imagine ancient people to have a god in charge of kitchen since food is the most basically need of human and even back to Shang Dynasty 商朝 which is between 1600 BC ~ 1046 BC, around 3000 years ago Chinese people started worshiping it.

There are a lot of versions of who the kitchen god is. I know there are always a lot of versions in Chinese mythology since there are many books and records throughout the history. One version is in the book HuaiNanZi淮南子, it says the Emperor Yan 炎帝 became the god of stove after death. Emperor Yan was a legendary ancient Chinese ruler in pre-dynastic times.

In the book ZhuangZi 庄子,it says stove has Ji, which means a kind of woman’s hairstyle. So Sima Biao 司马 彪, a historian from Jin Dynasty 晋朝 interpreted this words as the stove god ‘s name is Ji who wears red clothes and looks like a beautiful woman. In this version the god is female and is a beautiful female. However, more historians Ji is a mis-written character of Jie  . It doesn’t mean beautiful women but cockroaches, which are often found in the kitchen. My least favorite thing in the world! People at that time treated cockroaches as a holy animal (why?!) and as the stove god. Can you imagine that? But it makes sense kind of cause they were everywhere in the kitchen in the ancient time.

Later in the book HouHanShu 后汉书, it says the name of stove god is Chan, which is the same pronounced with Chan, which means cicada, an insect that also represents cockroaches in ancient China. And the god wears yellow clothes. Other names of the kitchen gods recorded in other names are SuJili 苏吉利 and Song Wuji 宋无忌 and so on, which are all related from the insect. So this kitchen god is a personification of cockroaches although the god himself doesn’t look like a bug.

Another version is more dramatic it says there was a guy who cheated on his wife and got all the money after divorce. His wife remarried to a poor carpenter. The guy didn’t work and spent all the money and became a beggar. One day he asked for food from house to house and accidentally ran into his ex-wife’s house. He was so shameful and committed suicide in the fireplace. He later became the kitchen god. I don’t understand some of gods in Chinese mythology have no reason to be a god. Some people say because he had the same last name with the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝.

In the book Investiture of the Gods封神演义, the couple ZhangKui 张奎 and GaoYinglan高英兰were assigned as the god and goddess of kitchen. Some places people worship the couple in the kitchen.

灶王1

Nowadays. On the 23rd of the twelfth month in lunar calendar, that day is called “Little New Year” 小年 , kitchen god would return to heaven to give the New Year’s report to the Jade Emperor, the highest power in Taoism. He would tell if the family have been doing good or bad things. It is the same idea of Santa Claus I guess he has a list. However, in China to make sure kitchen god say something nice about them, people would smear honey on the lips of kitchen god effigy or worship with candies and some kind of Chinese nougats. These food is supposed to make the kitchen god say some sweet to the Jade Emperor and also stick his month from saying something bad. After than the effigy will be burnt with some other ceremonies and this process was usually done by male and replaced on the 4th day of the Chinese new year, when he comes back from the heaven.

It is always kind of weird for me why the kitchen god is in charge of delivering messages to the Jade Emperor. Some people say it is actually of a misunderstanding of sentence said by Confucius 孔子. He said if somebody made a mistake it is no use to pray to the heaven. However, people from a long time before misunderstood it as if you don’t worship the kitchen god, he would report it to the heaven. Well I mean now people enjoy the day of worshiping kitchen god since candies and nougats are eaten by them anyway.

Mentioned:

灶神 ZaoShen 灶王ZaoWang kitchen god

淮南子 HuaiNanZi

炎帝 Emperor Yan

庄子 ZhuangZi

司马 彪 Sima Biao

后汉书 HouHanShu

封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

张奎 ZhangKui

高英兰 GaoYinglan

玉皇大帝 Jade Emperor

小年 Little New Year

孔子 Confucius

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