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by Micha F. Lindemans
The "Lord of the Hearth", an immensely popular hearth and kitchen deity in Chinese folk religion. He is also the protector of the family. An image or picture of him is fixed above the hearth and from this position he notes everything that happens in the house. This he reports to Yu-huang on each New Year's Day. In order to make him submit a favorable to the Jade Emperor, people smear honey around his mouth on New Year's Eve. He is usually shown surrounded by a host of children, and is venerated by the whole family.

His veneration dates back from before the 2nd century BCE and, according to popular legend, this is how it began:
Once there was a man called Zhang Lang, who was married to a very virtuous woman. She brought good fortune and blessing upon his house. The man, however, fell in love with a young woman and left his wife. Rejected, she returned home to her ancestral house. From that day on, Zhang Lang was plagued with bad luck. The girl turned from him, he became blind, lost his wealth and had to resort to begging to support himself. As fate would have it, his search for alms brought him one day to the house of his former wife. Being blind, he did not recognize her, but she did. She invited him in and served him his favorite dish. This reminded Zhang of his lost happiness, and with tears running from his face, he related to her his sad tale. She ordered him to open his eyes, and as if by miracle, he regained his eyesight and recognized her. He was deeply ashamed of how he had treated her and was unable to remain in her presence, so he jumped into the hearth, not realizing it was lit. His wife attempted to save him, but only managed to salvage one of his legs 1. She mourned for him greatly, fixed a small plague above the hearth where he lost his life and made sacrifices to him. That was the beginning of his veneration as a hearth deity.

1. Since then, the fire tong or poker is still known today in popular language as "Zhang Lang's leg."

The name of Zao-jun in traditional Chinese format.
The name of Zao-jun in traditional Chinese format.

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