The Female Pirate Whose Armada Took on the Chinese, British, and Portuguese Navies and Won

The Female Pirate Whose Armada Took on the Chinese, British, and Portuguese Navies and Won

The Female Pirate Whose Armada Took on the
Chinese, British, and Portuguese Navies and Won While female pirates weren’t uncommon off
the coast of Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries, one woman stood above them all. Her birth name isn’t known, but this Cantonese
pirate went by the name Ching Shih (also, by Zhèng Yi Sao, “wife of Zhèng”, and
Zhèng Shì, “widow of Zhèng”. For the purpose of this article, I’ll just
refer to her as Ching Shih to avoid any confusion.) Ching Shih was born sometime around 1775 (the
exact date isn’t known). At the age of 26, she found herself working
as a prostitute in a floating brothel in Canton. While there, she caught the eye of Zhèng
Yi, already a successful pirate with a small fleet of ships at his command, known as the
“Red Flag Fleet”. Exactly how the two ended up together is disputed. Some historians hold that Zhèng Yi sent a
raid to plunder the brothel and asked his men to bring back his favorite prostitute,
Ching Shih, for his portion of the loot, while others claim he simply went there himself
and proposed that they wed, which she only agreed to after he consented to give her equal
share of his plunder and to allow her to help run the organization. Whatever the case, once married, Ching Shih
did indeed begin helping Zhèng Yi run the Red Flag Fleet. During the next six years, their fleet grew
initially from about 200 ships to 600 with some key alliances, including forming the
Cantonese Pirate Coalition with pirate Wu Shi’er, and then to 1700-1800 ships by 1807,
as more and more pirates flocked to their banner. Unfortunately for Zhèng Yi, on November 16,
1807, he found himself caught in a typhoon and didn’t manage to survive the ordeal. Rather than step aside, handing over the organization
to someone else, Ching Shih convinced Zhèng Yi’s second in command, 21 year old Chang
Pao, to support her in taking over the Red Flag Fleet. Chang Pao was the son of a fisherman and had
actually been captured by Zhèng Yi when Chang Pao was just 15. He was then forced into the life of a pirate. He quickly gained favor in the eyes of Zhèng
Yi due to his intelligence, bravery, and skill in a fight and was adopted by the pirate captain
and Ching Shih as a son and made second in command of the fleet. With Chang Pao leading their troops in raids
and the like, Ching Shih focused on the “business” side of things, continuing to plan military
strategy and also to govern and grow the organization into something that went beyond just partnered
pillaging pirates. At the Red Flag Fleet’s peak in 1810, she
commanded about 1800 ships, both big and small; 70,000-80,000 pirates (about 17,000 male pirates
directly under her control, the rest being other pirate groups who agreed to work with
her group, then female pirates, children, spies, farmers enlisted to supply food, etc.);
controlled nearly the entire Guangdong province directly; held a vast spy network within the
Qing Dynasty; and dominated the South Chinese Sea. She didn’t just rely on looting, blackmailing,
and extortion to support her troops either. She setup an ad hoc government to support
her pirates including establishing laws and taxes. Because she controlled pretty much the entire
criminal element in the South Chinese Sea, she also was able to guarantee safe passage
through it to any merchants who wanted to pay. Of course, if they didn’t pay, they were
fair game for her pirates. In order to manage her ruffians and get them
all to do what she said without question, she setup a strict system of law within the
Red Flag Fleet which basically equated to, “You don’t follow the rules or I think
you aren’t and you get your head chopped off. No exceptions.” Specific laws included: If you disobey an order, you get your head
chopped off and body thrown in the ocean. If you steal anything from the common plunder
before it has been divvied up, you get your head chopped off and body thrown in the ocean. If you rape anyone without permission from
the leader of your squadron, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown in the
ocean. If you have consensual sex with anyone while
on duty, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown in the ocean and the woman
involved would get something heavy strapped to her and also tossed in the ocean. If you loot a town or ship of anything at
all or otherwise harass them when they have paid tribute, you get your head chopped off
and your body thrown into the ocean. If you take shore-leave without permission,
you get your head chopped off and body thrown into the ocean. If you try to leave the organization, you
get your head… ha, just kidding, in this case you get your ears chopped off. Captured ugly women were to be set free unharmed. Captured pretty women could be divvied up
or purchased by members of the Red Flag Fleet. However, if a pirate was awarded or purchased
a pretty woman, he was then considered married to her and was expected to treat her accordingly. If he didn’t, he gets his head cut off and
body thrown in the ocean. She didn’t just restrict herself to sea
battles either. She used her numerous shallow-bottomed boats
to good advantage along rivers to raid towns along the way, including defeating any armies
that came against her. For instance, two towns once banded together,
raised an army, and sent it against her forces. The Red Flag Fleet won the battle and she
subsequently marched her army to the two towns and ransacked them, including beheading every
male found there. Now, a pirate controlling a large portion
of the Emperor’s land and subjects didn’t sit well with him. As such, he raised a fleet of ships to attack
Ching Shih’s fleet. Unfortunately for him, Ching Shih was also
a brilliant military strategist and rather than running from the Emperor’s armada,
she sailed out to meet it with her fleet, which defeated the armada quite easily. Not only this, but she managed to steal 63
of the large ships sent against her and convinced most of the surviving crews to join her…
by letting them choose between being nailed to the deck by their feet and then beaten
to death or becoming members of the Red Flag Fleet and celebrating the victory with the
rest of the pirates. Needless to say, she found herself with plenty
of replacements for the pirates she’d lost in the battle. As for the Admiral of the fleet sent against
her, Kwo Lang, he committed suicide before he could be captured by Ching Shih. The attacks on her fleet didn’t stop there. However, now without a fleet large enough
to take her on alone, the Qing Dynasty government enlisted the aid of the super-power British
and Portuguese navies, as well as many Dutch ships, paying them large sums for their help. These combined forces waged war on Ching Shih’s
organization for two years with little success. She won battle after battle until finally
the Emperor decided to take a different tack. Instead of trying to defeat her, he offered
her and most of her organization amnesty. Ching Shih initially rejected the terms of
the amnesty treaty. However, in 1810 she unexpectedly showed up
at the home of the Governor General of Canton with the intention of working out a peace
treaty. The deal that she struck was that the fleet
would disband, including giving up most of their ships, and in return, they would nearly
all be granted amnesty and allowed to keep any loot they had acquired during their time
as pirates. The exceptions were 376 of her crew of which
126 were executed and the other 250 received some punishment or other for their crimes. All the rest got off scot-free and as part
of the agreement any who wanted it were to be allowed to join the military, including
her second in command and now husband, Chang Pao. He was given command of 20 ships in the Qing
Dynasty navy to command. Ching Shih was also given money to distribute
to her crew to help offset the cost of them switching from a life at sea, to one in the
mainland. As for Ching Shih herself, she negotiated
the rights to keep the fortune she’d accumulated and acquired a noble title, “Lady by Imperial
Decree”, which entitled her to various legal protections as a member of the aristocracy. She then retired at the age of 35, opening
a gambling house/brothel in Guangzhou, Canton, which she managed until her death at the age
of 69. During this time, she also became a mother
to at least one son and a grandmother. One can only imagine the bedtime stories she
told her son and grandchildren. So not only was she arguably the most successful
pirate of all time, but unlike pretty much every other famous pirate in history, she
also managed to escape being executed or punished in any way for her crimes and retired extremely
wealthy and a member of the aristocracy. The Dread Pirate Roberts has nothing on her.

100 thoughts on “The Female Pirate Whose Armada Took on the Chinese, British, and Portuguese Navies and Won

  1. I dont mind ads I understand the pay for the content but GOOD God the plug at the end was like as long as the actual video. Thanks for ruining my dish washing.

  2. Hey Hollywood. I know you're obsessed with strong independent women. Well I've got a doozy for you!

    Wait… Asian, female, happy ending… Nevermind, you'd ruin it. Forget I brought it up.

  3. I would have just taken over and commanded a small country by the time the organization got that big

  4. I reaaaaallllllyyyyy wanna smack the back if your head, not hard, just enough to get a good pop 😊

    TYPO AT 7:15
    remember if you have proper grammar on the internet, you constantly and consistently demonstrate your intellect.

  6. Youtube needs to stop this Family Friendly bullcrap or else they will get their head chopped off and their body thrown into the ocean.

  7. I heird about her in a video i was watching a year ago but i started thinking of femal pirats and looked her up again great video

  8. Now the Pirates of the Caribbean can pander to the Chinese movie market by bringing her character in the next movie.

  9. You and David and your writers/ research team should pitch some of these stories to Hollywood. we could use some new material. and I'd definitely watch this movie or read the book! Same many of your stories actually.

  10. Hmmm, a female pirate? Well I know of only two. Anne Bonnie and Mary Reed. I bet there were others but every pirate history book I have read notes them as the first female pirate(s) Mary Reed died soon after her baby was born. Anne disappeared and was never heard from. They were said to be hung but were delayed until their children were both born. This was in Black Flag, Assassin's Creed 4.

  11. Why are pirates so sensationalised? Like Vikings and the Romans among countless other infamous groups; they were vicious, violent and unpleasant people whose lives revolved around murder, pillaging, plundering, rape, blackmail, extortion, and betrayal. They were disgusting people.

  12. This woman was an utter badass! I agree with pretty much everyone here! Nevermind Jack Sparrow! They need to make movies about her!

  13. So, given that they had an organized system of government, the ability to collect taxes and enforce a set of laws, citizens, an army… can't it be said that the Red Flag Fleet was, under Ching Shih, a nation of its own? I believe it meets all the necessary qualifications of a sovereign state.

  14. I love how her rules pretty much consist of "you can fuck each other up but have the nerve to disrespect women and i will make sure you die"

  15. 7:16 "Acquiredba" First time so I don't really care but it is funny to see a typo in an otherwise very professionally presented show

  16. damn, she won big. Though it does beg the question. Did the Chinese have the same view and/or definition of piracy as we have in the west? She sound more like a warlord than a pirate in the traditional western sense.

  17. Hey Simon, I have a question. Is there a way to browse all of Skill Shares classes to see exactly what they have without signing up for the premium? I am really quite interested. Thanks.

  18. Ching Shih's Rules for her child and grandchild included:
    – Do your chores, or your head will be chopped off and your body thrown into the ocean.
    – Eat your vegetables, or your head will be chopped off and your body thrown into the ocean.
    – Brush your teeth, or your head will be chopped off and your body thrown into the ocean.
    – Don't sass your mother/grandmother, or your head will be chopped off and your body thrown into the ocean.

  19. Anne Bonny, Mary Reed and Ching Shih would be best friends.
    3 pirate women who were badass and mighty warriors 🙂

  20. I bet you anything that she decided to stop pirating and went to work out the deal because she got pregnant. Or maybe there was a sickness going around.

  21. It figures it was a woman since the Chinese then were all such weak servile people and about to be colonized or generally humbled by everyone.

  22. I wonder if there was a difference between having your head “chopped” off and having your head “cut” off…

  23. Man is truly a disobedient animal which must be beaten with a good hard stick in order for progress to happen at all.

  24. Love hearing inspiring tales of powerful women like this one? Then check out our story about the first female presidential candidate in the US (spoiler alert: she was not Hilary Clinton):

  25. Except she did lose against the Portuguese fleet during the Battle of the Tiger's Mouth. And that led to the end of her career in piracy.



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