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The Search for General Tso

The Search for General Tso

The Search for General Tso is a feature-length jovial, moving, and informative documentary that probes the roots of the poultry dish. However, it is not just the film about food. The movie travels back to ancient China, searching for the origin of the well-recognized iconic dish and its historical namesake. The filmmakers trace the history of the dish, dispel the stereotypes of the Chinese, and reveal the truth about a famous Chinese chicken, which is unknown in China.

Afterward, the film explores the journey of Chinese people and their food into the USA culture. Here, the filmmakers hide the main point of the film, which concludes that the history of Chinese food in America is a microcosm of the history of Chinese people in the USA. The directors of the film show that American attitude and stereotypes toward Chinese foods immeasurably depend on politics. After the Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers, Chinese settlers were forced to look for a job (Lee, Murray, & Cheney, 2014). Therefore, they had to gravitate toward other professions and start their own businesses, the majority of which turned out to be restaurants. However, Chinese food was not popular due to the Chinese communist mentality and the beginning of the Cold War in the 1950s.

The film also shows how Chinese entrepreneurs discovered that Chinese dishes adapted to American taste proved to be a profitable enterprise. As a result, the dish acclimated to western tastes named “General Tso’s chicken” appeared. The creators of the documentary masterfully depicted the long way of interference of Chinese food into American culture in a context of the United States diverse history.

The film not only shows the discrimination of the Chinese after the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, but it also reveals the stereotypes about China, Chinese people, and their food existing in the USA. The first myth essential for the plot of the film that the filmmakers dispel is that General Tso’s chicken is not recognized in China by natives and has already become a quintessential American dish. Actually, the myths about Chinese foods and Americans false assumptions beget false conclusions and result in distorted worldviews. Moreover, many Americans think that they are knowledgeable about Chinese culture because they eat in Chinese restaurants. The U.S. films usually represent Chinese culture as mystical, inscrutable, and nonsensical. In contrast, the discussed film challenges these ideas by giving arguments that General Tso’s chicken was invented neither in America nor in China.

Consequently, the majority of Americans’ thoughts about Chinese people base on stereotypes. The filmmakers show the origin of many “Chinese” dishes and depict how they turn out to be unfamiliar for Asian people. Moreover, with the example of General Tso’s chicken, they claim how intensely Chinese culture has assimilated into American culture.

After watching the film, the most impressive fact for me became the importance of food and entrepreneurship in the Chinese-American experience during several decades. Food has spanned the way through which many of immigrants pursued acceptance in the foreign community. I was also shocked by the information about the privations of Chinese Americans that they had to experience, such as discrimination, oppression, and even outright violence. While watching the film, I became knowledgeable about the segment in the history of the USA that was immensely connected with the part of Chinese immigrants’ life story thorough the depiction of food.

The movie The Search for General Tso is famous, and it moves the audience because it appeals to viewers’ emotions. One of the most surprising and moving moments for me was when various people interviewed by the filmmakers expressed their thoughts about the evolution of Chinese food in the USA. At that point, the cast of the film went to Taiwan where they interviewed the chef astonished by how entirely the American Chinese had changed their traditional food. Moreover, it was interesting to observe varying responses of Chinese people to changes in their traditional foods. Some people might feel sympathetic while watching the interviewers who claim that they wanted to preserve Chinese national food and keep initial recipes. The key point of the film connected with the food production is the moment with chefs serving the alligator or making General Tso’s tofu. While for some people these might be the complete abandonment of traditions, for others, it is a creative adaptation of the old customs.

Ultimately, the story of the dish is not as flavorful as the tale of its ascendancy in American culture. Nothing in the world can remain entirely unaffected by a new influence. The film shows it with the example of the famous American poultry dish. Haplessly imported and ingeniously promoted, it had already become a best seller in the sphere of restaurant business. Moreover, there is another reason why the film is worth watching. The history of specific cultural artifacts can be a vivid example of cultural and historical changes that everyone should identify, and the general theme of the film can be applied to further discussions.

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