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The Pirate Queen of China

Researcher and scholar of history, philosophy and religion. She believes in universal brotherhood.

Mrs. Ching Wielding a Sword


The Most Fearsome Female Pirate

Piracy is not a new affair in world's history. Even today, the pirates of Somalia are a great threat to the world. There are many fierce pirates who create havoc in world's maritime history and become nightmare for the ships and sailors. But the most remarkable thing is that among these league of pirates who were essentially males, few females yielded great control and even became virtual queen of them. History remembers such female pirates like Mary Read, Rachel Wall, Anne Bonny and of course Ching Shih.

Ching Shih was the female pirate who had controlled the China sea for quite a long time. Qing emperors controlled China in between 1644-1912. In the first half of 18th century, one female pirate exactly became a nightmare for the kings of China. She had control over the whole of South China Sea. It is told that she had under her more than 80000 pirates who were ready to obey and even sacrifice their life for her. The most noteworthy fact was that she did not come from any noble family, neither she had any relation with Qing dynasty. From the year 1807-1810, she was the virtual empress of China Sea. Her real name was Zheng Yi Sao and more famously known as Ching Shih. She was born at at Chinese Xinhui province, on a floating brothel of Guangdong, probably in the year 1775.

She was herself a prostitute in the early part of her life. Actually she came in contact with Zheng Yi, the pirate leader in the brothel. Zheng Yi was the notorious pirate leader who had a hold on the South China Sea and had under him eighty thousand pirates and more than fifteen hundred ships. In the year 1801, they were married as the pirate leader was attracted by Ching's innate ability of dealing with aristocratic men and her organizational power. Gradually she became accustomed with the ways of oceans and after her husband's death became the most notorious pirate leader of China.

Many historian concluded that in order to gain control over her husband's piracy empire, she conspired with the adopted son of her husband. But other simply opined that Zheng Yi died in an accident and there was no part of conspiracy in that. Whatever may be the fact Zheng Yi died only at the age of 42 and after six years of their marriage.

Consequently she became known as Ching Shih or the widow of Zheng. She knew very well that after her husband's death, the total control would be in the hands of the adopted son Zhang Bao and therefore she made love with Zhang and married him to retain the control of this vast empire of piracy.

Philip Gosse in his book, "The History of Piracy", relates some codes made by her. The three codes were: 1. if any pirate lands on shore without prior permission of the authority, he shall be punished by mutilation of his ears, 2. all this that are plundered, shall be properly registered and the said pirate will get only twenty percent and remaining eighty percent will be handed over to general fund and 3. the abducted girls should not be mal treated or raped. Those who will disobey will be punished with death.

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Despite much efforts of Qing emperors, she remained indomitable. Even English East India Company and Portuguese Navy could not destroy her. After much fights and struggles, she signed a deal with the China king and went to live peacefully. Obeying her order, the pirates under her command also left piracy. She died in the year 1844.Thus she remains as one of the leading pirates of all time. As a female, perhaps this is not a mean task.

© 2021 Ilina Jones

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