Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive



The Kitchen God

I have never heard about The Kitchen God, until I read the famous book of Amy Tan – The Kitchen God’s Wife.

During the most chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution, there was no celebration for the New Year at all. Red banners, which for 1,000 years had featured couplets about springtime and prosperity, now had to have revolutionary slogans lauding Chairman Mao. Temple fairs vanished. Lion and dragon dances were scorned, bunched in with the detested Four Olds: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Teachers told students to reject traditional gifts of money in red packets from their parents, because money had to be earned through the sweat of the brow.

Perhaps the most significant blow to Chinese New Year was the government’s decision to forbid the annual burning of the Kitchen God, whose paper effigy hung above the stove. From this post, he could see whether a family was naughty or nice, and once a year, he passed along that information to the Jade Emperor, the top god in Daoism. A week before the first day of the lunar New Year, the family would feed him homemade candy and sticky cake to sweeten his words (or glue his mouth shut) during his annual report in heaven, and set out grass and water to nourish his horse for the journey. The family would then torch him and kowtow as he went up in flames, touching the forehead to the floor three times. Without burning the Kitchen God and replacing him with fresh paper, it was as if the year hadn’t passed.

For more than 50 years, the Kitchen God’s effigy has been censored material. While low-ranking gods like the Lords of the Door, who guard courtyard gates and inner doorways, were more tolerated, the Kitchen God was not. In the more traditional countryside, peasants evaded censors by printing the Kitchen God at home on crude wooden blocks. 
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 Lang. He eventually became married to a virtuous woman, but ended up falling in love with a younger woman. He left his wife to be with this younger woman and, as punishment for this adulterous act, the heavens afflicted him with ill-fortune. He became blind, and his young lover 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 Lang 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, Zhang felt such shame that he threw himself into the kitchen hearth, not realizing that it was lit. His former wife attempted to save him, but 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 Lang’s Leg”.

In Tan’s story there is an elaborate description of the coming of  “The Kitchen God”. The character Winnie goes into detail about how he came to be and attempts to address cultural struggles as she removes the picture of the Kitchen God from her daughter Pearl’s stove, as she does not believe this is the kind of luck Pearl needs. She then promises to fill the altar with the image of another god. In addition to this cultural struggle there is also a feminist undertone at the core, suggesting that this ritual is sexist, outdated, and inappropriate in today’s world. The story can be viewed as a struggle between traditionalism and biculturalism.


KFC’s Success in China

If there were just a few things that China has wholly embraced from the West, it would be our love for Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC as it is more commonly known. Bloomberg reports that “Colonel Harland Sanders’s image is a far more common sight in many Chinese cities than that of Mao.” It was the first Western fast food chain to arrive in China. In 1987, this fast-food operator opened its first outlet near Tianamen Square in Beijing. Even McDonald’s is no match for KFC in China as Colonel Rules Fast Food. By 2008, KFC had twice as many outlets in China as McDonald’s, a reversal of the ratio in other parts of the world. 

Today, KFC customers can purchase a bowl of congee, a rice porridge that can feature pork, pickles, mushrooms and preserved egg, as well as buy a bucket of its famous fried chicken. In 2010, Yum(KFC’s parent company) expected to make 36 percent of an estimated $2 billion operating profit from 3,700 restaurants in China — eclipsing for the first time its total earnings from the 19,000 Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, Long John Silver’s and A&W restaurants it owns in America. Yum announced on Jan. 18 that it will sell its Long John Silver’s and A&W chains in part to focus on China.

However, nothing breeds imitators like success. I found this noodle store in Fengjing watertown, it is very  funny and I can’t help but wondering who is the designer behind the idea .

Shanghai/China in 10 minutes

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About Shanghai

Chinese Symbolism – Bats

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Symbolism is an essential part of Chinese culture, contained within fundamental methods of communication, such as speech patterns. Chinese languages are tonal, resulting in a fondness for puns and wordplay. In Mandarin Chinese, four distinct variations in tone are used to distinguish words from one another. For instance, “fu” can represent either good fortune or a winged bat, depending on the intonation used.  For this reason, bats-feared in the West-are symbolic of good fortune in China, so bats and their depiction are considered good luck.  In ancient China, bats were used to be the most popular being reflected in furnitures, architecture and including the embroiderment in imperial robes for high ranking officials and the emperor to signify prosperity and excellent fortune.

In the Yu Garden of Shanghai, they often seen as two bats or five bats but seldom alone.  Two bats “shuang1 fu2” 双福 means double luck. A design of two bats with a scepter ru2 yi4 means “double happiness as wished”. Five bats “wu3 fu2” 五福 means Five Fortunes referring to longevity, wealth, health, love and a natural death at a ripe age. For example, Five bats surrounding the Chinese character for longevity shou4 寿 is a very powerful symbol of fortune and longevity. A red bat is especially auspicious because red “hong2” 红 has the same sound as vast “hong2” 宏. So a red bat means “vast fortune”.

When a bat symbol is shown with a coin – fu2 zai4 yan3 qian2 福在眼前 – it means fortune before your eyes. Why? Because before “qian2” and coin “qian2” sounds exactly the same. Another great visual pun.

No Shooting at Temple

Found it in LinyinTemple – the oldest temple in south of China, over 1300 years old, apparently they don’t want you to shoot(taking photos) at their special temple shop.

Classical Chinese Opera

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Yesterday night, I went to see an Chinese Opera show done by the Shanghai Opera School, all of the actors and actress are young students aged between 16 to 18 years old, truely impressive.

However it is also sad to be aware that now days few young Chinese people are interested in the traditional opera, we are more into internet, computer games, American movies and night lifes. There was one fun mid-aged man sitting behind me and keep commenting on the preformance, it is was interesting to listen as my knowledge was also quite limited towards such topic.

Yi Fu Theater has the longest history and the largest scale of any Chinese opera theater in Shanghai. It was once known as Tian Chan Theater. Since its establishment in 1925, Tian Chan Theater has featured Peking Opera performances and has been favored by many famous Chinese opera artists. Early on, it became the ‘Largest Theater in the Far East’.

Chinglish of the Week

It actually means non recyclable waste 🙂

Bound Feet of Chinese Women

Find a pair of woman’s shoes at the Peasant Painting Village. The shoes belong to an artist, the old woman in this photo was her grandma in Shanxi province with the 3-inch feet. She will be 110 years old, if still alive.

Before 1911, for approximately one thousand years, some Chinese girls’ feet were bound with long strips of cloth to keep them from growing and the toes were broken and bent towards the soles of the feet. The ultimate goal was to achieve the “golden lotus”, a 3-inch long feet, arched and pointy resembling the lotus buds. Few women achieved this ideal. It was the standard of feminine beauty, eroticism, social status and a passport to marrying into wealth.

Gabby on the tour is feeling how small it is by holding it…

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