Badass Women of Color in History: Ching Shih, became one of the most powerful and successful pirates in history.
Her date of birth is unknown, but it is believed she was born around1775. At the age of twenty-six, she worked as a prostitute at a brothel in Canton. While working there, she met Zhèng Yi, a successful pirate commanding small fleet ships, called the “Red Flag Fleet”. It is also unknown how Ching Shih and Zheng Yi met each other. It is believed by historians that Zhèng Yi raided the brothel that Ching Shih worked at, commanding his men to bring him his favorite prostitute, Ching Shih, while others believe that Zhèng Yi went to the brothel asking Ching Shih to marry him in which she agreed to only if he agrees an equally share of his plunder and to allow her to help run the “Red Flag Fleet”. The next six years, the “Red Flag Fleet” grew from 200 ships to 600 with the help of alliances. Zhèng Yi unfortunately died in a typhoon, so Ching Shih convinced Zhèng Yi’s second in command, Chang Pao, to take over “Red Flag Fleet.” Ching Shih focused more on the “business” side of things such as military strategies. When the Red Flag Fleet’s peaked in 1810, she commanded 1800 ships, big and small, 70,000 to 80,000 pirates with 17,000 male pirates under her control, with other pirate groups who agreed working for her, female pirates, children, spies, and farmers enlisting to supply food. She controlled nearly the entire Guangdong province, held a spy network within the Qing Dynasty, and ruled the South Chinese Sea. To support her troops, she didn’t rely on things like looting, blackmailing etc. instead she constructed an ad hoc government to support her pirates which included establishing laws and taxes. Ching Shih was strict as hell. In order to successfully control her pirates, Ching Shih created strict rules:
- 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 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.
Ching Shih also marched her army to two towns who formed an army against her, she ransacked and beheaded every male found there. The Emperor didn’t like the idea of a pirate controlling a portion of his land, so he commanded a fleet of ships to attack Ching Shih’s fleet. Ching being a great military strategist confronted the Emperor’s fleet and easily defeated them. Also, she managed to steal 63 of the large ships sent against her, demanding the surviving crews to work for her. Refusal to work for Ching Shih resulted in surviving crews deciding on being nailed to the deck by their feet or getting beaten to death. The Admiral of the fleet sent against her, Kwo Lang, committed suicide before Ching Shih could capture him. Qing Dynasty government requested aid from the British, Dutch, and Portuguese to defeat Ching Shih’s fleet, even with their help they remained unsuccessful. Ching Shih won every battle until finally the Emperor took a different approach, he decided to offer her and her fleet amnesty. At first, Ching Shih refused the Emperor’s amnesty but in 1810 she worked out a peace treaty. Ching Shih at the age of 35, became a mother to one son, opened a gamble house/brothel in Guangzhou, Canton, in which she managed until her death at the age of 69.