Not one in 10,000 knows who General Tso (most commonly pronounced "sow") was, nor what terrible times he lived through, nor the dark massacres that distinguished his baleful, belligerent career. Setting their chopsticks aside, patting their stomachs, the satisfied diners spare scarcely a thought for General Tso, except to imagine that he must have been a great connoisseur of hot stir- fried chicken.
[Tso] made war, and war made Tso. He began his military career as an adjutant and secretary for the governor of Hunan province. He raised a force of 5,000 volunteers and took the field in September 1860, driving the Taiping rebels out of Hunan and Guangxi provinces, into coastal Zhejiang. There he captured the big cities of Shaoxing, still famous for its sherrylike rice wine. From there he pushed south into Fujian and Guangdong provinces, where the revolt had first begun and spread, and had crushed the Taipings by the time the rebellion ended in 1864.
Is it possible that, struggling to carve out a new life in America under backbreaking adversities, and having heard of the sword skills of the remorseless General Tso (who had the top leaders of the Nian Rebellion executed with the proverbial "death of 10,000 cuts"), the overseas exiles indulged in some gallows-humor about their old enemy? That the chopped-up chicken dish may have gotten its name from the sliced and diced victims of Tso's grim reprisals?
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