Jan 042012
 

Traditional Chinese Tales with a Twist

The Story of the Stove God*

Kids now all know of a Santa Claus in the West, who is a fun divine-type of being. Actually China has a similar divinity too: the Stove God. Let me tell you the story of the Stove God.

A long time ago there was a young man named Zhang Dan. He built brick stoves for folk. He was very skillful and good mannered. His wife was Guo Dingxiang, a pretty woman adept at keeping their house clean.

Zhang Dan had a neighbor named Zou, whom people called Aunt Zou. Aunt Zou liked to criticize people. If someone asked her, “Aunt Zou. why do you always pick on people?” Aunt Zou would say, “You don’t understand anything, do you? Let me tell you. A long time ago there was a kid who was a good student. His mother kept praising him, so he stopped working hard. Then he turned bad. And then he died. That proves you cannot praise a person. I say you are bad, I am actually doing it for your own good.”

Aunt Zou told Zhang Dan that he is was a stinking, good-for-nothing, dirty and stupid, and ugly too. Aunt Zou also said that Guo Dingxiang, his wife, was a foxy witch, silly, and that it was wrong of her to smile at other men.

Zhang Dan didn’t feel this criticism was for his own good. He felt shamefaced and sad at heart. In thinking that he was such a good-for-nothing, he couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep. Then he couldn’t go out to work. When he ran out of money, he borrowed some and went to gamble. He ended up losing his wife and his house. Zhang Dan ended up a beggar on the street.

Winter came and there were few people on the road. Zhang Dan couldn’t get enough to eat. He was cold and hungry and fainted by the roadside. When Guo Dingxiang heard this, she felt pity on him and brought him to the new home she had scraped together to buy. She laid him on her bed and went and made him chicken noodle soup. About this time, Aunt Zou came to visit and saw Zhang Dan lying on Guo Dingxiang’s bed and eating her noodles. Aunt Zou scolded Zhang Dan for being so shameless. When Zhang Dan heard her searing words, he felt that he had no longer had any face; he could not live. He rummaged around and found a bottle of kerosene, which he poured on himself. He lit it and burned himself to death. Aunt Zou, who was watching him, got splashed with kerosene as well, and before she could run away she was burnt to death too.

After Zhang Dan burnt to death, his entire body turned black. His face was black, a puppet made of charcoal. His hair was singed, curled up on his head and very short. He and Aunt Zou walked the road to Western Heaven. On the road were souls of other people and animals who had recently died. Zhang Dan met a dog with only three legs. The dog was happy to see Zhang Dan. His tail wagged to the right. But Aunt Zou said to the dog, “Scram! You crippled dog! Useless thing.” Zhang Dan said, “Don’t say that. This dog is quite clever. With just three legs he can run faster than our four legs put together.” The dog smiled, “You are a nice person. Let’s walk together!”

Aunt Zou saw that the two had become friends–they talked and laughed together, and paid no attention to her. She got bored, so she walked by herself.

Zhang Dan said to the dog, “I was not a nice person. I was a stinking good-for-nothing with no culture. I was dirty and stupid, and I was ugly as well. I gambled and lost my wife and house all to other people. Then I turned from a stinking good-for-nothing into a stinking, good-for-nothing, poor beggar. What was nice about that?!”

The dog said, “You humans think too much. What stinking, good-for-nothing, poor beggar are you talking about? In dogs’ eyes, if you are kind to us, you are a nice person. No matter how rich and powerful you are, or if you dress yourself up as shiny as donkey dung, if your heart is not kind, then you are not a nice person.”

When Zhang Dan heard this, he felt warm inside. He thought, that’s right. He had a skill, and was able to make a living. His wife had managed a good house, and their life had been good. When neighbors were in trouble, the two of them would help. Who said he wasn’t a nice person? It’s only Aunt Zou’s criticism that had changed his mind and brought him disaster. Zhang Dan was grateful for the dog’s enlightenment, so he patted the dog on the head.

After awhile, they met a blind cat, whose name was Cat. Cat felt Zhang Dan next to him, so he came over and rubbed against Zhang Dan’s leg. Zhang Dan picked the cat up and put him on his shoulder. Cat said, “You are a nice person. Let’s be friends!”

Zhang Dan said, “No use being a nice person anymore, we are all dead. I won’t have the chance to build stoves for people even if I wanted to, or chat with my wife.” Cat said, “That’s not for certain. When we get to the King of Hell’s place, maybe he will let you build stoves in your next life again. Plus your soul is kind; it will show no matter.”

Zhang Dan saw the light after hearing what Cat had said. He was grateful to Cat’s enlightenment and scratched him under his neck. Cat immediately purred with pleasure. Zhang Dan thought, “This cat and this dog are both wiser than me. One can see kindness, the other can see hope. I am lucky to have them as company.”

It got dark and the souls were all cold. Zhang Dan gathered some firewood and lit a fire; dog caught a large fish. The three of them roasted the fish around the fire. Blind Cat asked Zhang Dan, “How did you die?” Zhang Dan said, “That Aunt Zou always said that I was no good. I was taken in and believed in her. And so I became really no good. In the end I felt I couldn’t live anymore, so I burnt myself to death.” Cat said, “That’s a pity. You shouldn’t have believed her words. If you had known me at that time, I would have told you that you are a very nice person. Then you wouldn’t have died.”

Zhang Dan asked, “How did you die” Cat said, “Bad kids made me blind, I couldn’t catch mice anymore and eventually starved to death. If I had you guys around when I was alive, to help me catch fish, I wouldn’t have died either. How happy that would have been.” Dog said, “That’s right! If I had been there then, I wouldn’t have let the bad kids blind you in the first place.”

Cat said, “What do you say? How about the three of us become sworn brothers? Then we will support and encourage each other forever.” Dog said, “What are sworn brothers? My original owner was a “sworn brother” with a gang, and they swore all the time. But he really had a bad temper. I don’t want to become his brother at all. After my leg got run over by a car, he left me on an island and abandoned me.” Cat said, “You don’t have to become sworn brother with your old bad master; the three of us can become sworn brothers. Sworn brothers are people who were originally not from one family, but they take an oath and treat each other as brothers from then on. And we don’t swear.” Dog said, “Good. Let’s become brothers. Zhang Dan will be the Alpha, I will be second place, and you are the third.” Cat said, “Zhang Dan is Alpha, I am Beta, and you are the third.”” Zhang Dan said, “Forget about who is Alpha. Let’s put our hands together and you two say with me, ‘We swear to become brothers today, and swear to encourage each other and do no harm to each other forever.'” In this way the three dead vagabonds became sworn brothers.

Zhang Dan said, “We brothers from now on will not say anything bad about each other, or call each other names, you know, like blind cat, cripple dog, idiot, stutterer, and so on. Because all three of us have been harmed by bad words. Isn’t that right?” Cat said, “That’s right.” And Dog also said, “That’s right.”

All the dead souls walked towards the west. At dawn a girl came from the opposite direction. This girl’s green hair stood up on her head like a big explosion. Her face was painted white and her lips were black. Under thick eye-shadow she had painted two thick black lines going downwards, like black tears. In her lips was a large lip-ring. When Zhang Dan saw her, he staggered back in fright and tripped over Dog. He landed on his butt.

Zhang Dan knew it was impolite to stare, so he said, “Where are you going, girl?” The girl said defiantly, “I don’t know.” Though her voice sounded fierce, both Cat and Dog could sense that this girl was not a bad person. Dog said, “Then come with us?” The girl responded, “Aren’t you going to see the King of Hell? That’s my father’s place? I am not going back there. He is always busy with work and never says anything good about me. And the other fairies despise me; they call me the she-ghost.” Zhang Dan was stunned, “You are the princess of hell?!” The girl nodded. Cat said, “It’s all right if you don’t want to go back, just walk with us for a while. You have nothing to do anyway. And we don’t get to meet princesses and fairies every day.” Dog chimed in, “Right. It’s like a blind cat meeting a dead mouse; it doesn’t happen all the time.” Dog touched Cat’s head with his nose, “I am not talking about you. Just a figure of speech.” The Princess of Hell smiled, revealing that she was actually a stunning beauty.

Zhang Dan asked, “Why do other fairies despise you?” The girl said defiantly, “How do I know.” Cat said wisely, “I know. Because you can’t catch rats. That’s why they despise you.” Princess said, “I am not a cat. Why should I go around catching rats?!” Dog said, “Then it’s because you are handicapped and cannot catch up with rabbits?” After he said this, he circled the princess to see if she was handicapped in any way.

The Pricess of Hell blurted out, “I am not handicapped either. And I don’t chase rabbits.” Dog said, “Ah, I understand now. You’re that guy! You know, the one who sits under a tree waiting for rabbits to come and bump headlong into the tree thereby killing themselves.” The princess laughed.

Zhang Dan said, “Let me guess. Fairies also must go to school. Perhaps you don’t study as well as they do, and so they look down on you?” “My grades are number one in my class. Those girls are bad students.”

“Then why do they look down on you?”

“All other fairies have dresses and jewelry made in the Jade Emperor’s palace, I don’t. They go to Mercury for summer holidays and Mars for winter holidays, and I am not allowed to go. They all have many brothers and sisters, I am the only child. I have no siblings to play with me. Plus the Palace of Hell is no fun. They look down on me and won’t include me in their play.

Dog jumped up, “No problem! You have no siblings? Well, we didn’t have any before either, and we were very lonely. But now we have sworn and are all happy now.”

Cat whispered, “You are so stupid. I wish you were a mute and would shut your mouth.” After he said this, he remembered that he should not call Dog stupid. So he covered his mouth and said to Dog, “Sorry about that.” And then he said to the princess, “Well, actually we didn’t swear, you know, like curse or anything! What it was is that we became sworn brothers!”

Dog said meekly, “That’s right! We are SWORN brothers.”

Princess saw that they were both very cute and said, “Then can I join you as a sworn brother too? What rules do you have?”

Zhang Dan said, “Our rules are simple: don’t ever say anything bad about each other or call each other names–stuff like blind cat, cripple dog, idiot, she-ghost, and so on. We vow to encourage each other from now on.”

Princess said, “Oh, that’s simple.”

Zhang Dan said, “It may sound simple, but it’s not. Just now Cat made a blunder. But he apologized right away. So we can’t always do it right; we must still practice.”

Princess, who was a good student, was delighted that practice was involved, “I love doing practice. Let’s practice! I will give you a question to answer: Just now when I came, you fell down on your bum. Why?”

Zhang Dan said, “You looked terrifying! I was so shocked.”

Princess perked up her lips and said, “I am not happy at all with your answer. You failed. Answer me again.”

Zhang Dan thought about it, “Your sudden appearance shocked us, we didn’t think such a beautiful girl would have the guts to dress herself so different from other people. And that’s why I fell.”

Princess said grudgingly, “Hum, OK. Then do you think I look good like this?”

Zhang Dan thought hard about how to answer this question? If he said she looked good, that would be lying because he really didn’t think so. In fact, he really wished the girl wouldn’t make herself up to look so scary. But if he said she didn’t look good, it might be considered a violation of their sworn-brother rules.

After some long, hard thought, Zhang Dan said, “I know how to answer that question! It’s this: You are a beautiful painting–I mean just you yourself. Putting on that extra makeup on your face is like adding feet to a snake.”

Dog said, “Right, it’s like drawing a dog and adding two horns.”

Princess walked over to a small pond by the road, and looked at her own reflection in the water. She took off her lip-ring, cupped some water in her hands and washed off all the makeup on her face. She also washed her hair, restoring it to its original black.

When the dog saw the princess’s beautiful face, he pretended to be shocked. He fell back and lay on the ground as if dead. When Zhang Dan saw the princess’s beautiful face, he said, “Wow, you’re beautiful enough to sink fishes and make geese fall from the sky!”

Dog scrambled up, “Fishes? What fishes? I’ll go catch some.”

Cat explained, “When the ancients described a beauty, they would say her beauty was enough to make a fish sink to the bottom of a lake and enough to make geese fall from the sky just by looking at her. It means that her beauty was stunning!”

Princess asked, “Do you really think I am good looking?” Zhang Dan nodded earnestly.

Cat sighed, “So beautiful. It’s a pity I’m blind.”

Princess became happy hearing everybody say she was beautiful. She got out two cymophane stones from her pocket, held them up in front of the cat’s face, blew on them, and the two pebbles flew into the cat’s eye-sockets and became his new eyes. The cat’s vision was restored. He jumped down from Zhang Dan’s shoulder and happily dashed around several times on the road. He eventually came back and looked carefully at the princess, “Ah, you are indeed beautiful! Even better looking than that calico cat I remember from my old yard.”

Zhang Dan added, “You are not only good looking, but more importantly, you are kind.”

The four chatted as they walked on and soon became old friends. Princess explained that the more common name for the cymophane stone was “cat’s eye” but that very few people know how to wield its magic.

On the road to the King of Hell, when they were cold, they lit bonfires and warmed themselves. When they were hungry they caught fish to eat. These four vagabonds, all of whom had felt worthless beforehand, now felt a happiness they had never felt before.

Aunt Zou walked on by herself and got to the King of Hell’s palace ahead of them.

At the palace, dead souls first registered with a small demon in an office near the gate. The small demon give every person and every animal a form to fill. When it came to Aunt Zou, she said, “What is this smell about you? It stinks! And let me see what you are writing. How come your handwriting is so awful? You write every day and your handwriting is still so poor?! Are you retarded or what?”

At the outburst from Aunt Zou, the small demon was so scared that his hand started to shake and he forgot words he had known how to write before. Beads of sweat appeared on his head and rolled off onto the table. In a short while, the table was completely wet.

When Aunt Zou saw another small demon, this one a guide, standing there staring at her, she boomed, “What are you staring at! Don’t you see there’s work to do!? Go sweep the floor! You all are a bunch of lazy bones!” The eighteen small demons in the reception office all rushed around pretending to work after that. Nobody wanted to be cursed by Aunt Zou.

Aunt Zou was led by a timid demon to the King of Hell. She placed her form on the King of Hell’s table and knocked on the table impatiently. The King of Hell read the form from top to bottom, distracted by her knocking.

“So what’s your name?”

“My name is Aunt Zou! Your memory doesn’t seem so good eh? forgetting my name right after you read it! One must practice memorization when young; if you don’t work hard when you are young, you will only have regrets when you get old! I wonder how YOU became a leader?! Look at this bunch of demons under you. Is there a single one of them that’s semi-decent?! If you don’t have a good memory, you should at least get a secretary to help you! I, by myself, single handedly, without writing it down on paper, just using my brain, could fix all your work with ease!”

The King of Hell was dumbfounded, “Really?”

“Of course. You listen to me. This Zhang San behind me? He was a stinking cook. He was a good-for-nothing. His restaurant folded, he got sick and had no money for treatment, so he died. You should turn him into a fly in his next life. And this Li Si behind him? He was a drunkard. He drank himself to death. He asked for it. You should turn him into a dung-beetle in his next life. And that lean horse behind him? What a useless thing. He liked to kick people. He died when the cart he pulled turned over on him. In the next life you should turn him into a pig. And this young woman in the back? Well she didn’t serve her mother-in-law well, so her mother-in-law beat her to death. Let me tell you, she deserved it! In her next life she should become an ant. If she still doen’t listen to orders, she will be trampled to death. Now, how’s that?! Want me to be your secretary?”

The King of Hell felt sweaty. Nobody had ever told him that he is good-for-nothing, at least not in SO many words. He felt tired and in a bad mood. He certainly didn’t want this woman as his secretary. He just wanted to get rid of her as soon as possible.

“Ah, the Jade Emperor does need a secret agent. I will send you as a secret agent for him. You will return to the world as a spider genie and record all the bad deeds done by people. You will report to the Jade Emperor once a year. Can you remember everything that happens in a year?”

“Are you kidding? That goes without saying. Nobody can escape my heavenly net.”

So the King of Hell used his magic and turned Aunt Zou into a large black spider and sent her back to the world as the Jade Emperor’s secret agent. When she discovered a shortcoming of a person, she would add a thread to her spider’s web. Her web was her record. By the end of the year, she reported to the Jade Emperor with a big pile of spider’s webs in tow. She only spoke about the bad things that had happened on earth. And she found many faults, with even so-called good people. If anybody made the slightest mistake, it would turn into a crime in her mouth.

Just after Aunt Zou had been commissioned and sent off to be a spider secret agent, Zhang Dan, the princess, the cat and the dog arrived to the palace. Princess saw that the place was gloomier than usual, that the King of Hell looked a lot older, and that the demons were all dispirited. Princess said to Zhang Dan, “My dad seems tired. And this house is so cold. Let’s not register first, but make a fire and boil some fish soup for everyone, okay?” Zhang Dan nodded happily.

When the King of Hell saw his daughter, who looked cleaner and prettier, he said, “Ah, my little girl is not pretending to be a ghost anymore? This is how you should look.” Then he added, “How come you are not in school today?” Princess said, “Dad! It’s the winter holidays now! All you know is school.”

On seeing his daughter all bright and cheerful, the King of Hell said, “Seldom do I see you so happy, what’s up?” Princess said, “No hurry, I will gather some kindle wood first. Later, when we have fish soup, I will introduce my new friends Zhang Dan, a pussy cat, and a three-legged dog to you.”

“You can gather kindle wood? My spoiled daughter knows how to work?” The King of Hell was surprised. When the princess heard this, she was not happy and her smiles were covered over by a dark cloud.

Dog whispered in Cat’s ear, “None of what the King of Hell said can pass our test.”

Zhang Dan quickly added, “Princess can really work, even better than all of us. You must have taught her well. Princess is not only a good student, but a truly kind person.”

The King of Hell overhead these comments and was taken by surprise. But his mind was still preoccupied by all the negative things that Aunt Zou had said and he was depressed.

The four friends went to gather wood. But the wood they found was damp. Dog said, “These won’t light.” Cat said, “What shall we do?” Princess looked at Zhang Dan. Zhang Dan said, “Don’t worry, there’s a saying: ‘if the fire is big, no wood is damp’. That means, if we get the fire going strong, even wet wood will burn.”

The Kind of Hell’s palace was very damp for a fire had never been lit there before. The King of Hell was downcast. “It’s not possible. If you could light a fire in my palace, it wouldn’t be called the netherworld, would it.” Zhang Dan smiled slightly, “Well, I don’t have other skills, but building stoves and lighting fire is my trade. Let me just try.”

Zhang Dan sat by the pile of damp wood and created some sparks with his flint stone. He lit tinder he had got out of his jacket-lining. Now he needed dry wood, but there wasn’t any. Zhang Dan looked at his left leg. It was just like a piece of charcoal. He said, “Well now, we have a dry piece of wood here.” And he broke off his left leg and lit it. A red flame gradually appeared and grew big enough so that steam on the wet wood they had gathered started to rise.

The King of Hell sat and watched, still not believing it would work, “Give up. Just now a woman named Aunt Zou said that my memory was poor and that I am not fit to be a leader. Don’t trouble yourselves with making a fire and fish soup. I have no appetite.”

Zhang Dan asked, “What did you turn Aunt Zou into?”

The King of Hell said, “I made her into a secret agent of the Jade Emperor, a spider genie on earth. She will report to Jade Emperor at the end of every year.”

When they heard this news, all four friends were shocked. Princess said, “Dad, you did a bad thing. That woman is really mean. You gave her power. She will do more harm than good to more and more people! The world will be chaotic because of her.”

The King of Hell asked, “How can she harm people?”

Zhang Dan said, “She uses words to harm people. I killed myself because I believed what she said.”

King of Hell hung down his head and sighed. Zhang Dan said, “Don’t fear. We will first get the fire going, then we will think of a way to deal with her.”

The wet wood was getting drier, but Zhang Dan’s left leg all burnt up and the fire died down. Zhang Dan looked at his right leg. It was also a piece of dry charcoal. He said, “My my, here is another piece of dry wood.” And he broke off his right leg and lit it. Hot flames again created lots of smoke on the damp wood.

The King of Hell felt warmer, but he could see that the damp wood had still not caught on. He said, “Let’s give it up. I’m already warm now. I’m old now, too, and useless. I can’t even judge a person correctly anymore.”

Zhang Dan said, “You are by no means old. You are just not living among people and have not seen people like her. Plus, which immortal around you or even demons dare criticize you?” When the demons heard this, their heads all shrank into their shoulders and they smiled in secret.

The little demons had never seen fire before. It was the first time they had seen something so warm and joyous. They all crowded around the fire and followed the princess’ example in fanning the flames. Smoke coming from the wet wood made them cough, but nobody retreated.

The wood was about to catch on properly, but Zhang Dan’s right leg had also burnt up and the fire began to die down again. The little demons all stared at the last flame with bulging eyeballs. And the princess also looked at Zhang Dan with worry.

Zhang Dan smiled at her shyly and said, “Don’t worry, it will catch.” As he said this, he reached into his chest pocket and got out his heart. This was also a piece of charcoal. Princess tried to stop him, “Don’t! A pot of fish soup is not worth this!” Zhang Dan said, “For your dad and everybody’s joy, it’s worth it. This is what the ancients call ‘I give my life for a gentleman’s pleasure.'” So saying, he put his heart into the smoldering wood.

Zhang Dan’s heart was not an ordinary piece of charcoal. It had a huge amount of energy, something like a piece of charcoal soaked in gasoline. When it caught fire, it made a loud bang and lit the whole pile of wood. The flame jumped up taller than a person, singing a searing song full of small explosions. The remaining body of Zhang Dan fell to the ground like a charred branch of a tree.

The three-legged dog and the cat came to Zhang Dan’s side and tried to get him up. But he didn’t move. Tears rolled down Princess’s face.

The King of Hell’s palace became toasty warm. Fire lit up the place and many inlaid gems on the wall shone beautifully for the first time since anyone could remember, turning the hall into a mysterious world.

The King of Hell didn’t say anything for a long time, but his complexion softened. Finally he nodded his head, “Aunt Zou depressed me with her words, while Zhang Dan has warmed my heart by lighting a fire. I have come to a decision. Since Zhang Dan was a stove-builder, I am going to send him down as the Stove God to specially deal with that Zou spider genie. And since he understood the concept of giving his heart for a gentleman’s pleasure, my daughter will be safe with him. If she doesn’t mind him being black, she can be the Stove Goddess.”

And with that, and getting no response from anybody around him, the King of Hell pronounced in a loud voice, “Stove God Zhang Dan! I order you to rise! And the rest of you, go fetch a pot and get some fish! We are going to make fish soup!”

After the King of Hell had said “Stove God Zhang Dan, I order you to rise!” Zhang Dan’s body became whole again, although he was still black. His heart and legs miraculously grew back, almost in the blink of an eye. Zhang Dan hurriedly got to his feet to poke at the fire. After a short while, the fish soup was done. Everyone, including the King of Hell, the Princess, Zhang Dan, Cat, Dog, and all the demons, all had a bowl of hot fish soup. The demons made loud sucking noises and smacked their lips, indicating that the soup was really delicious. Princess introduced the pussy cat and the three-legged dog to the King of Hell, and told him about them becoming sworn brothers. Everybody chatted and laughed.

Zhang Dan asked the princess privately, “Do you mind me being black?” Princess said, “Black is good, makes your teeth look whiter. Plus, if the teacher calls you to the blackboard to answer a question, once you get up there, she won’t be able to find you.” When the demons heard this, they all laughed their heads off.

The King of Hell cleared his throat and everybody quieted down. He said, “Today a bad woman called Aunt Zou confused me. On hearing what she said, even I, the King of Hell, wanted to kill myself. In my confusion, I allowed her to become a spider genie and continue to harm others on earth. When Zhang Dan lit the fire, it made me realize something: People’s hearts don’t need cold water poured on them; what they need is a warm fire and hot soup.” The little demons all nodded their heads. “We want soup. Preferably every day. And fire is good too. We must also learn to build fire.”

The King of Hell glowered at them and continued, “What the Spider Genie says can kill. So, now that Zhang Dan is the Stove God, he must hurry back to earth and tell everybody that they are good. He must tell them that they must have confidence in themselves. At the end of every year, Zhang Dan, the Stove God, must return to heaven and report to the Jade Emperor about the good deeds people have done, so that the spider genie can no longer harm people.”

And this is how Zhang Dan became the Stove God and married the princess of the King of Hell.

The King of Hell sent everybody a short message. Those people without cell phones got their the message in dreams. Those who had no cell phone and didn’t remember their dreams, go the message from other people.

The King of Hell’s message was this:

The Jade Emperor has sent the Stove God down to help people. People should treat him as a good friend. At New Year’s every year, every family should invite an image of the Stove God into their home and put it in their kitchens. By the 23rd of the 12th month, which is seven days before Spring Festival, they should burn the image of the Stove God, so that he can rise to heaven. And on Spring Festival day, they should get a new stove god image.

The King of Hell added the following post script:

Kids, if your parents always say you are no good, you should buy a Stove God image and paste it on the wall. Then tell your parents the story of the Stove God, so they can learn to criticize less and encourage you more.

Zhang Dan and Princess, the Stove God and Stove Goddess, in this way went to the homes of every family. They stand on top of the stove day and night, watching the lives and work of the family. When they see people having problems, they get worried too, and encourage these people in their dreams. And when they see people with happiness, they are filled with joy too.

As for three-legged Dog and pussy Cat, well, they didn’t leave the couple. They became the Stove God’s assistants, also made immortal by the King of Hell.

*******

The year is almost over. The 23rd of the 12th month is approaching. Zhang Dan sees that there are cobwebs everywhere in people’s homes. He is worried that the black spider genie will be talking bad things in front of the Jade Emperor. So the Stove God has sent a message to everyone, telling them to clean their houses on the 23rd of the 12th month, and make sure they sweep away all the cobwebs. That’s because cobwebs are the so-called “criminal” records made by the Zou spider-genie.

And so it has come about that by the 23rd, every family has cleaned their house, both inside and outside, leaving not a thread of cobweb to be found. When this is the case, the spider-genie has received a hard blow; she will have forgotten all the crimes she had collected. When she sees the Jade Emperor, she will have nothing to say.

When Zhang Dan goes to heaven for Spring Festival, he talks to the Jade Emperor only of good things and presents him with candies that the people have given him. Each year, the Jade Emperor is overjoyed and awards people with good fortune.

As for the people, they know that the Stove God will never say anything bad about anybody. His mouth is sweet. So they all love him and buy him the best candies. And they also made up a rhyme:

The Stove God’s name was originally Zhang,
The Stove Goddess is truly beautiful.
We send you to a heavenly palace tonight,
You will see the Jade Emperor when you get there.
Speak to him often of my kindness,
And talk of my good deeds without stop.
When the Jade Emperor sees that I have made progress,
He will surely award me with good fortune!