The Kitchen God, known by his name Zao Jun or Zao Shen, is the god of the kitchen whom on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month (which is just before the Chinese New Year) returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household from the year to the Jade Emperor (who accordingly punishes or rewards based on Zao Jun’s reports).
Zao Jun is often depicted with his wife on a paper effigy and traditionally said paper effigy would be placed above the fireplace in the kitchen. On the day Zao Jun returns to Heaven (twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month) to report to the Jade Emperor, people smear the lips of Zao Jun on their paper effigy or statue of the god with honey to sweeten his words to the Jade Emperor or keep his lips stuck together. After this the effigy would be burnt, or in the case of a statue of Zao Jun, it will be cleaned.
The third day of the eighth lunar month people offer food and incense to Zao Jun, as it is this day that is his birthday, offerings of food and incense occur to Zao Jun also on the day he returns to Heaven. Sweets are what are usually offered to this god.
Zao Jun, like many other Chinese gods and goddesses, was originally mortal. Zao Jun himself started off as a wealthy farmer with the name of Zhang whom has the blessing of owning fertile land with great harvests and livestock, had everything he needed and had a loving family. It was until Zao Jun got a concubine that things went down hill, his wife left him and it was him that exhausted his wealth. It was after he exhausted his wealth that his concubine left him, leaving Zao Jun to live on the streets as a homeless beggar.
During a winter, Zao Jun became too weak and fainted while knocking on a door begging for food. The woman who answered the door nursed Zao Jun back to health, with Zao Jun waking up in a small kitchen by a warm hearth. Looking at the woman who nursed him back to health, it was the former wife of Zao Jun much to his embarrassment.
Due to the embarrassment and the inability to look at the face of his former wife, Zao Jun jumped into the hearth and died despite the attempts of his former wife to save his life. When the Jade Emperor learnt of Zao Jun and his life, it was declared that Zao Jun will be the kitchen god.
Zao Jun’s life serves as a lesson to many, and is one of the better known gods as he is seen as one of the more important gods of China. As a god who reports to the Jade Emperor it is understandable on why he is seen as so important.