Kitchen God

Kitchen God

The Stove Master


Zao Shen; Tsao Chun



The Kitchen God traditionally lives by the hearth. His role is to protect family harmony by guarding the kitchen and dining areas, once considered the soul of the house. His presence in the kitchen is not abstract but entirely visible: his image once hung in virtually every Chinese household. Because he lives in the house as one of the family, he is privy to intimate knowledge. The Kitchen God sees, hears and knows all.

Although officially a guardian spirit, the Kitchen God is really a spy. He is the witness to what a family might prefer to keep private. With the Kitchen God around, what happens in the home does not stay in the home. His true function arrives at year end when each family’s Kitchen God is summoned to the Jade Emperor’s court to offer an annual report regarding what he has witnessed all year. The family’s fortunes in the New Year are dependent on his giving them a favourable review.

The Kitchen God has been popularly venerated since at least the second century BCE. He may derive from an old hearth spirit. Alternatively various myths describe how a man was deified, inheriting this position. (See Kitchen God’s Wife.)


There are different versions of the Kitchen God’s identity and thus different images used for him. Many are sold just before Chinese New Year. Some show him as a dignified official. He may be depicted alone or with one or two wives and possibly as many as six daughters.

Feast: On the 23rd day of the final lunar month of the Chinese calendar, an offering table is prepared for the Kitchen God featuring only sweet dishes so that his tongue and words are equally sweet, not sharp, spicy, bitter or sour. Traditional foods include sweet oranges or tangerines; chicken; roast pork; cakes; candy; big bowls of cooked rice studded with candied fruits and lots of rice wine.

After he’s had time to eat, his image, which has hung in the kitchen all year is taken down. His mouth is smeared with something sweet and sticky like honey or molasses. (Either to further sweeten his words or to glue his gossiping mouth shut.) He is petitioned to be kind and only report good things about the family. His image is then burned, simply or with elaborate rituals; enabling his spirit to rise with the ascending smoke to the Jade Emperor’s Celestial Court. A new image, posted at the New Year, signals his return.


The Kitchen God is quite open to bribery, which may be offered on a regular basis or just before he leaves for Heaven. Lavish offering tables; sweet liqueurs or spirit money may be given however the Kitchen God only accepts offerings from men, traditionally from the “head” of the family.


Jade Emperor; Kitchen God’s Wife


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.