Who is General Tso?

Come into any Chinese restaurant in the U.S. and you will probably find a dish named after General Tso. But, who is he and why are these dishes named after him?

Tso Tsung-t’ang or Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠) was born November 10, 1812 in Wenjialong, Hunan Province, China. Although he came from a poor family, he sought to be in civil service so he set out to take the necessary exams. After several unsuccessful attempts, he returned to his home in Hunan to work as a silkworm farmer.

While working on his farm by the Hsiang River, Tso persisted and aimed his personal studies in the direction of western sciences and political economy. At the age of 38, he became an advisor to the Governor of Hunan Province during the Taiping Rebellion. Six years later he was offered an official position in the provincial government of Hunan as Commander of the Xiang (Chu) Army.  Along with two other generals, Tso received credit for suppressing the rebellion.

This was the beginning of his career in the military. As a reward for his successful campaign, he was appointed Governor of Zhejiang Province in 1863 as well as Undersecretary of War. Later, in 1865, he was elevated to the position of Viceroy and Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang. It was while serving in this position that he also became Commissioner of Naval Industries. He is credited with founding the first modern naval academy and shipyard in the city of Fuzhou.

Tso not only governed provinces, but because of his early successes in military campaigns, the ruling family called on him to lead the offensives during the Dungan Revolt and the Sino-French War. Although a great general, Tso had never felt comfortable with the politics inherent with the positions to which he was appointed, and so he asked to be relieved of his duties in 1884.  He died shortly thereafter.

Although General Tso’s career is well documented, his connection to the popular dishes named after him remain a mystery.  This dish, as we know it today, was allegedly unknown in China until introduced by Chinese American chefs in the 1970s.  However, some speculate its origins to really be Hunanese and based on a simple ancestral chicken recipe. Tweaked to please the American palate, General Tso’s chicken, beef and shrimp are popular American Chinese dishes that have made the name of a cultural hero a common household name.

Yu’s New Beijing enjoys sharing fun facts about Chinese culture with you. When we serve General Tso’s dishes, we honor perseverance and dedication, and pay tribute to those who believe in their dreams. Can we prepare some General Tso’s delicacies today for you and your family?

We are located at 610 Roosevelt Rd. in Glen Ellyn, IL. Dine in, pick up or have your order delivered.  Call 630.469.1535 to place your order.

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