03/12/2014 09:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Diasporic Dining: Did Mao Order in Chinese?


Did Mao order in Chinese? Did Chairman Mao like General Tso's chicken? You read about The Long March, The Hundred Flowers Campaign and The Cultural Revolution, but it's hard to find documentation on what dishes Mao liked. Zhou Enlai, Jiang Zemin and other leaders of the Communist Party obviously required nourishment as they toiled into the night to create the juggernaut that is modern China today and, which by the way, has other fish to fry. Perhaps Mao was afraid his goose would be cooked? Still Americans are so used to Chinese food that they almost consider it a right. Watch the average American as he enters his local Chinese restaurant. He treats the premises as if they were his home, carelessly throwing his coat on the seat of his Naugahyde booth and continuing the fight he or she is having with his or her spouse or partner, as if the attentive waiter who smiles embarrassedly were not there at all. Even when China was riven by the civil war between the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek and armies of Mao, both leaders and soldiers had to eat. Let's go back even further. Did Sun Yat-sen, the great leader and revolutionary, get the little white cartons? Did his food come with a plastic bag filled with soy sauce, mustard and suite and sauce? Did he have to ask for chopsticks or the little bags of crunchy noodles? Isn't the failure to include any scenes of Chinese food being delivered in the film versions of either Empire of the Sun or The Good Earth a little like Bertolucci filming Ultimo tango a Parigi without sex?

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}