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Ching Shih: a female prostitute becoming the ever most successful pirate captain

Goran Blazeski

Ching Shih was born in 1775 in Guandong. Raised in poverty,  she had to became a prostitute to survive.

Her life changed  in 1801, when she married the infamous pirate captain Zheng Yi who was the leader of the notorious Red Flag Fleet.

Another life twist followed in 1807,  when her husband was killed by a tsunami. She succeeded him, thus commanded over 1,800 pirate ships and estimated 80,000 men.

Today, she is recalled as one of the most successful female pirates in the history of the world.

Ching Shih
Ching Shih

When her husband died she had two options: the first was to go back to the life of a prostitute and the other one was to become a powerful pirate lord.

She didn’t intend to step aside, so she managed to convince 21-year-old Chang Pao, Zheng Yi’s second in command, to support her in taking over the Red Flag Fleet. Empowered by the support of Chang Pao’s, Ching Shih took charge.

Chang Pao was only 15 when he was captured and forced into the life of a pirate by Zheng Yi.

He was a very intelligent and brave young man so Zheng Yi decided to adopt him as a son and made him second in command of the fleet.

Few weeks after the death of Zheng Yi, Ching Shih had taken Chang Pao as her lover as well, eventually solidifying the relationship through marriage.

Together with Chang Pao, they made an excellent team, with Shih in supreme command of  the confederation while Pao was in charge of the daily running of the business.

As a female captain, she had been twice as severe and twice as ruthless as any male leader.

She created a strict code of piracy and anyone who dared to break it, had taken the risk of becoming beheaded.

Insubordination or theft from the common fund was also followed by death punishment and beheading.

You would have lost your ears for desertion.

If you had had consensual sex with anyone while on duty, you would have got your head chopped off and the woman involved would have been strapped with something heavy and then tossed in the ocean.

Ching Shih also made sure that no women were mistreated by her crew members and captivated women were unharmed and set free, unless a pirate had wished to marry one.

But even in such cases, the pirate had to treat her accordingly and if he didn’t he would had had his head cut off and his body thrown in the ocean.

Pirate flag. Photo Credit
Pirate flag. Photo Credit

Ching Shih was called “The Terror of South China.” Her fleet took leadership over many coastal villages, sometimes even imposing levies and taxes on the villagers.

There were many attempts by Qing Dynasty officials, the Portuguese navy, and the East India Company to vanquish The Red Flag Fleet under Ching Shih’s rule but all of them were unsuccessful.

In 1810 the Chinese government offered her amnesty and she decided to retire by accepting it.

There is no information about the period after her retirement.

She died in 1844 at the age of 69.

We have another wacko story for you: The Kitty Salon – a SS-run Brothel in Berlin during the Second World War

Her story inspired a character in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise: the powerful Mistress Ching, one of the nine Pirate Lords.

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News