A Woman Pirate Ching Shih Who Set the China Sea Ablaze in the 19th Century
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A Woman Pirate Ching Shih Who Set the China Sea Ablaze in the 19th Century

Ching and her husban Zhang built up a large pirate fleet that sailed the China Sea and looted passengers and ships. In 1807 Zhang died leaving Ching a widow at the young age of 22. She now took a revolutionary step and stepped into her husband’s shoes and took command of the pirate fleet. She was accepted by the rank and file and for the next 3 years Ching led a pirate fleet that looted millions

Everybody loves hearing about pirates and watching movies about them.  In popular imagination pirates have a romantic image attached to their genre, though in real life most pirates were a ruthless breed. The movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ did good business all over the globe.

Pirates have been men with some of them having beautiful women as appendages with them. Women pirates as leaders have not been heard off.  However in China in the 19th century a woman pirate named Ching Shih did rule the roost. She was by all accounts a ruthless pirate who enforced discipline among her tribe and yet retired happily.

Ching Shih was born in 1785 and died in 1844. She lived her life in Canton and at an early age worked as a prostitute.  Canton at that time had a string of floating brothels in the harbour and Ching worked in one of them. In 1802 she married pirate Zhang Yi and took to piracy along with her husband.

The situation in China at the beginning of the 19th century was chaotic and the central government was weak. Its writ did not run very far and as such piracy flourished. The British, French and Portuguese operated in the China Sea, but they also made only half-hearted attempts to control piracy.

Zhang and Ching built up a large pirate fleet that sailed the China Sea and looted passengers and ships. In 1807 Zhang died leaving Ching a widow at the young age of 22. She now took a revolutionary step and stepped into her husband’s shoes and took command of the pirate fleet.  She was accepted by the rank and file and for the next 3 years Ching led a pirate fleet that looted millions.

Ching enforced discipline among the crew and in particular was very harsh on anybody committing rape. Maybe as she was a woman, she took this crime seriously and there are reports that rapists were castrated.

The Chinese government unable to control the rampant piracy on the high sea offered an amnesty in 1810. Ching who was getting tired of sailing on the high seas accepted the amnesty offer and gave up piracy. She however negotiated to keep her share of the loot with her, which the Chinese government agreed.

Ching settled in Canton and as per reports married her adopted son. She opened a gambling house there and lived her days in some style till she died in 1844. The tale of the Chinese pirate Ching has been the subject of a number of books and films.

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