Tso Tsung-t'ang


File:Zuo Zongtang.jpg
Portrait of General Tso, by Piassetsky, 1875

Zuǒ Zōngtáng (左宗棠, Styled Jigao 季高) (November 10, 1812-September 5, 1885), spelled Tso Tsung-t'ang in Wade-Giles and known simply as General Tso or General Tsuo to Westerners, was a gifted Chinese military leader born in Wenjialong, north of Changsha in Hunan province, during the waning of the Qing Dynasty. He served with brilliant distinction during China's most important (and the world's largest) civil war, the 14-year-long Taiping Rebellion, in which at least 30 million people lost their lives. The Tso in General Tso is sometimes misspelled "Cho" in English, probably due to influence from Cantonese. The correct pronunciation of the name in Mandarin is [tsuɔ tsʊŋtʰɑŋ].



Early career

Zuo's career got an inauspicious start when as a young man he flunked the official court exams seven times (~1822-1825).

All but giving up on public life, Zuo returned to his home by the River Hsiang in Hunan and resigned himself to a quiet life farming silkworms, reading, and drinking tea. It was during the period that he first directed his attention to the study of Western sciences and political economy.

Taiping Rebellion

When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850, Zuo, then 38 years old, was hired as an adviser to the governor of Hunan. In 1856, he was formally offered a position in the provincial government of Hunan.

In 1860, Zuo was given command of a force of 5,000 volunteers (later known as "Chu Army"), and in September of that year he drove the Taiping rebels out of Hunan and Guangxi provinces, into coastal Zhejiang.

Zuo captured the large city of Shaoxing, and from there pushed south into Fujian and Guangdong provinces, where the revolt had first begun. In 1863, Zuo was appointed Governor of Zhejiang and Undersecretary of War.

In August of 1864 Zuo, together with Zeng Guofan, dethroned the Taiping king, Hong Tianguifu, and brought an end to the rebellion. He was created an Earl for his part in suppressing the Rebellion.

In 1865, Zuo was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang. As Commissioner of Naval Industries, Zuo oversaw the erection of China's first modern shipyard and naval academy in Fuzhou the following year.

Success and appointments

Zuo's successes would continue. In 1867, he became Viceroy and Governor General of Shaanxi and Gansu and Imperial Commissioner of the Army in Shaanxi.

In these capacities, he succeeded in putting down another uprising, the Nian Rebellion (捻軍起義) in 1868.

After this military success, he marched west with his 120,000 strong army, winning many victories against the rebellious Muslims of Northwestern China including today's Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai provinces and Chinese Turkestan in the 1870s.

In 1878, he successfully suppressed the Yakub Beg's uprising in Xinjiang and helped to negotiate an end to Russian occupation of the border city of Ili.

For all his contributions to his nation and monarch, Zuo was appointed a Grand Secretary to the Grand Secretariat in 1874 and created a Marquess in 1878.

Later life and death

Now in his seventies, Zuo was appointed to the Grand Council, the cabinet of the Qing Empire at the time, in 1880. Uneasy with bureaucratic politics, Zuo asked to be relieved of his duties and was appointed Viceroy and Governor General of Jiangnan and Jiangxi instead in 1881. In 1884, upon the outbreak of the Sino-French War, Zuo received his fourth and last commission as commander-in-chief and Imperial Commissioner of an expedition force (this time Lord Admiral of the Navy as well, as the war with the French was fought in Fujian, a coastal province.) He died shortly before a truce was signed between the two nations, in Fuzhou (Foo-chow), 1885.

Notability in popular culture

  • A chicken dish, "General Tso's chicken", was apparently named after him, though the reasoning behind this, if it exists, has not yet been discovered. The dish is said to have originated in New York City.
  • The time-travel card game Early American Chrononauts includes a card called General Tso's Chicken which players can symbolically acquire from the year 1884.
  • In The Simpsons episode "A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love," Montgomery Burns proclaims, "Ah, General Gao, you were a bloodthirsty foe, but your chicken is delectable!"


  • Hsü, Immanuel C. Y. The Ili Crisis: A Study of Sino-Russian Diplomacy, 1871-1881. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.
  • Hummel, Arthur William, ed. Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (1644-1912). 2 vols. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1943.

See also

  • General Tso's chickenid:Zuo Zongtang

ja:左宗棠 zh:左宗棠


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