Domestic God of the inner sanctum

chinadaily.com.cn 2021-03-15

He is known as Zao Jun, the Kitchen God, a fair-faced celestial who spends only a few days in the heavenly court of the Jade Emperor. For most of the year, he presides over the heart and hearth of earthly households, guarding the livestock, the servants, and most of all, the cooking stoves.

In kitchens large and small all across China, the preparations are starting as Zao Jun travels to report to his boss on the 23rd day of the last lunar month.

He has been doing this every year for the longest time, as far back as the Xia Dynasty more than 2,000 years before even Christ was born. The Xia was only the first recorded dynasty in Chinese history, so it is likely Zao Jun has been around even longer than that.

Basically, the Kitchen God has been guardian of the stove ever since the Chinese started cooking indoors.

The day of his departure also signals the start to a flurry of preparations for the official arrival of Spring a week away. His portrait, probably smoky from standing over the stove an entire year, will be taken down, smeared with honey and reverently burnt to send him on his way.

In the new year, a brand new portrait will go up on the wall.

Meanwhile, the kitchen and its inhabitants will be pretty busy. There is even a folk rhyme to guide you through it all:

Twenty-third, pumpkin candies,

twenty-fourth, spring cleaning.

Twenty-fifth, tofu time,

twenty-sixth, make meat stew.

Twenty-seventh, kill the rooster,

twenty-eighth, rise the dough.

Twenty-ninth, steam the buns,

New Year's Eve, stay up late.

New Year's Day, celebrate!

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