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Who Was General Tso? And Why Are We Eating His Chicken?

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General Tso to Go

Every wonder who General Tso (most commonly pronounced “sow”) was?  Did you think it was a conjured up name for a chicken dish at a Chinese Restaurant?  General Tso’s chicken was introduced in New York in the 1970s and is named in honor of the historic figure.

So who is this great General?  His Chinese name was Zuo Zongtang (of course we HAD to Americanize it!)

[The following is taken liberally from wikipedia.org, with my comments in parenthesis]

GeneralTsoZuo Zongtang (Chinese: 左宗棠; pinyin: Zuǒ Zōngtáng, pronounced [tswɔ̀ tsʊ́ŋtʰɑ̌ŋ]; Courtesy name: Chinese: 季高; pinyin: Jìgāo) (November 10, 1812 – September 5, 1885), spelled Tso Tsung-t’ang in Wade-Giles and known simply as General Tso in the West, was a Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty.

He was born in Wenjialong, north of Changsha in Hunan province. He served in China’s northwestern regions, quelling the Dungan revoltand various other disturbances. He served with distinction during the Qing Empire’s civil war against the Taiping Rebellion, in which it is estimated 20 million people died.  (Ed:  Nice guy!)

Zuo Zongtang was born on November 10, 1812, into a poor family in Xiangyin County, Hunan.

Zuo’s career got an inauspicious start when, as a young man, he failed the official court exams seven times (ca. 1822-1835). (Ed: His mother must not have been very proud of him!)

[Ed:  Skipping the boring parts of the story]

His legacy is two-fold:

  1. Zuo Zongtang was admired by many generals who came after him. The Muslim General Bai Chongxi wanted to reconquer Xinjiang for the Kuomintang central government, in Zuo Zongtang’s style, and expelled Russian influence from the area.[6] Zuo Zongtang was also referred to by Muslim General Ma Zhongying (a descendant of a Salar noble) as one of his models, as Ma led the KMT 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) to reconquer Xinjiang for the Kuomintang from the pro-Soviet governor Jin Shuren during the Kumul Rebellion.
  2. A Chinese chicken dish (a sugary-spicy melange of dark-meat tidbits, deep-fried then fired up with ginger, garlic, sesame oil, scallions and hot chili peppers) was named after him.

So now you know the rest of the story!

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