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The Legend of the Kitchen God

Though there are many stories on how Zao Jun became the Kitchen God, the most popular dates back to around the 2nd Century BC. Zao Jun was originally a mortal man living on earth whose name was Zhang Dan. Zhang was a wealthy farmer who owned an acreage of fertile land with great harvests and livestock. He had everything he needed and had a good family. However, one day he became attracted to a concubine and left his wife. As punishment for this adulterous act, the heavens afflicted him with ill-fortune. He exhausted all his wealth and became blind. His concubine abandoned him, leaving him to resort to begging to support himself.

One day, while begging for alms, he happened across the house of his former wife. Being blind, he did not recognize her. Despite his shoddy treatment of her, she took pity on him, and invited him in. She cooked him a fabulous meal and tended to him lovingly; he then related his story to her. As he shared his story, Zhang Dan became overwhelmed with self-pity and the pain of his error and began to weep. Upon hearing him apologize, Zhang's former wife told him to open his eyes and his vision was restored. Recognizing the wife he had abandoned, embarrassed and not being able to look her in the face, Zhang jumped into the hearth. His former wife attempted to douse him with water but the fire kept on blaring , and all she managed to salvage was one of his legs.

The devoted woman then created a shrine to her former husband above the fireplace, which began Zao Jun's association with the stove in Chinese homes. To this day, a fire poker is sometimes referred to as "Zhang Dan's Leg". And after receiving a report of Zhang's story, the Jade Emperor declared and appointed Zhang to be the Kitchen God.

Another possible story of the "Kitchen God" is believed to have appeared soon after the invention of the brick stove. The Kitchen God was originally believed to have resided in the stove and only later took on human form. Legend has it that during the Later Han Dynasty, a poor farmer named Yin Zifang was making breakfast one day shortly before the Lunar New Year, when the Kitchen God appeared to him. Although all Yin Zifang had was one yellow sheep, he sacrificed it to the Kitchen God. Yin Zifang soon became rich. To show his gratitude, Yin Zifang started sacrificing a yellow goat to the Kitchen God every winter on the day of the divine visitation, rather than during the summer as had been customary. This is the origin of the Kitchen God Festival.

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