Zeng Guofan to General Tso Tsung-t’ang, 1864

The General frequently had a stain of sticky-sweet orange sauce on his upper lip.


I must write to commend you for your recent victory. Together, we have crushed the rebellion and our future is secure. The government and people of China thank you. Your military knowledge and acumen would shame Sun-Tzu himself, and I very highly doubt our forces would have emerged victorious if not for your bravery, chicken, and skill.

Most importantly, we believe your men were buoyed by superlative morale. They all speak of great respect for you, and more importantly, your delicious spicy sauced chicken. I personally believe this recipe was the key in defeating our enemies. I’m sure you’ll agree its continued production and consumption must be a goal for the new regime. Our nation will be strong only if we are nourished properly. It is my opinion that your delicious blending of the sweet and the spicy is the way forward for our people.

It is no secret that we are beset on all sides and within by enemies who would like nothing more than to kill us and hang our bodies in the streets. They are driven by hatred. Hatred of our way of life, and hatred of our way of saucing deep-fried meats. They would divide the spicy and the sweet, or add more vegetables to our courses. Perhaps they would even celebrate the addition of something ghastly like brown rice or even tofu to our dinners. We must stop these savages at all costs, especially at the cost of $6.95 for lunch, including soup.

Please return to the capital for your briefing. Bring 3 orders of your chicken, plus rice and spare ribs. General Bao would also like an order of your vegetable lo mein. You’d better bring an order of Broccoli in Brown Sauce as well. We can pay cash.

For China,

Gen. Zeng Guofan


It may be difficult to believe, but there was a time when General Tso’s chicken was unheard of in mainland China. Prior to General Tso’s brilliant military maneuver of combining spicy and sweet flavors in one delicious sauce, even the wealthiest Chinese aristocrats were eating pan-fried chicken seasoned with little more than Mrs. Dash. Meanwhile, the peasants were boiling their chicken in nothing but water. Needless to say, they were  dissatisfied and angry and often revolted.

After General Tso created his recipe–a combination he said was inspired by his “mother’s cooking” and his willingness to experiment in the kitchen–his forces were virtually unstoppable. The recipe was leaked to the general population and the peasants rejoiced. Once Tso switched from brown to white rice and starting giving out free Cokes with every order, the Chinese only became stronger. The simplest decision they made every day was what to have for lunch and dinner. The British were literally lining up at the Great Wall at 3 a.m. looking for their next fix.

Gradually, however, the Chinese became fat and irritable. Some began demanding more than their one allotted fortune cookie. Then they would rip open the plastic wrapper, toss aside the cookie shell, and upon reading their fortunes be all like “What? That doesn’t even make sense.”


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  1. Pingback: Great-Uncle Henry Kantrowitz to Historyoftheletter.com on the Occasion of Their 100th Letter | The History of the Letter

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