He is arguably one of the most famous Chinese historical figures in the world. Outside of China, however, General Zuo Zongtang (A.K.A. General Tso) is known almost entirely by his namesake, a chicken dish as ubiquitous in America as it is unknown in China. With a recipe calling for sticky-sweet cholesterol bombs of fried chicken nuggets mixed with just a little chili pepper heat and a laughably inadequate amount of green vegetables, it’s little wonder the dish has found its way into American hearts and arteries.
But General Zuo was more than just a Chinese counterpart to Colonel Sanders, he was also one of the most fascinating officials of the Qing era. He was a late bloomer who failed following the traditional pathways to success but ultimately became one of the empire’s most famous and indispensable military leaders.