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The Kitchen-god

Tsao Chün is a Taoist invention, but is universally worshipped by all families in China—about sixty millions of pictures of him are regularly worshipped twice a month—at new and full moon. “His temple is a little niche in the brick cooking-range; his palace is often filled with smoke; and his Majesty sells for one farthing.” He is also called ‘the God of the Stove.’ The origin of his worship, according to the legend, is that a Taoist priest, Li Shao-chün by name, of the Ch’i State, obtained from the Kitchen-god the double favour of exemption from growing old and of being able to live without eating. He then went to the Emperor Hsiao Wu-ti (140–86 B.C.) Page 167of the Han dynasty, and promised that credulous monarch that he should benefit by the powers of the god provided that he would consent to patronize and encourage his religion. It was by this means, he added, that the Emperor Huang Ti obtained his knowledge of alchemy, which enabled him to make gold.

The Emperor asked the priest to bring him his divine patron, and one night the image of Tsao Chün appeared to him.

Deceived by this trick, dazzled by the ingots of gold which he too should obtain, and determined to risk everything for the pill of immortality which was among the benefits promised, the Emperor made a solemn sacrifice to the God of the Kitchen.

This was the first time that a sacrifice had been officially offered to this new deity.

Li Shao-chün gradually lost the confidence of the Emperor and, at his wits’ end, conceived the plan of writing some phrases on a piece of silk and then causing them to be swallowed by an ox. This done, he announced that a wonderful script would be found in the animal’s stomach. The ox being killed, the script was found there as predicted, but Li’s unlucky star decreed that the Emperor should recognize his handwriting, and he was forthwith put to death. Nevertheless, the worship of the Kitchen-god continued and increased, and exists in full vigour down to the present day.

This deity has power over the lives of the members of each family under his supervision, distributes riches and poverty at will, and makes an annual report to the Supreme Being on the conduct of the family during the year, for which purpose he is usually absent for from four to seven days. Some hold that he also makes these reports once or twice or several times each month. Various ceremonies are performed on seeing him off to Heaven and welcoming him back. One of the former, as we saw, is to regale him with honey, so that only sweet words, if any, may be spoken by him while up aloft!


 

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