The Pirate Queen of the South China Sea
The Red Flag Fleet under Ching Shih’s rule went undefeated, despite attempts by Qing dynasty officials, the Portuguese navy, and the East India Company to vanquish it. After three years of notoriety on the high seas, Ching Shih finally retired in 1810 by accepting an offer of amnesty from the Chinese government. Ching Shih died in 1844, at the ripe old age of 69.At the dawn of the 1800s, a former prostitute from a floating brothel in the city of Canton was wed to Cheng I, a fearsome pirate who operated in the South China Sea in the Qing dynasty. Though the name under which we now know her, Ching Shih, simply means “Cheng’s widow,” the legacy she left behind far exceeded that of her husband’s. Following his death, she succeeded him and commanded over 1,800 pirate ships, and an estimated 80,000 men.
Her husband, Ching I, was the formidable commander of the Red Flag Fleet of pirate ships. He married a 26-year-old Ching Shih in 1801. She quickly took to the pirate life and when Ching I died six years later, Ching Shih wasn’t going to let Ching I’s adopted son, Cheung Po Tsai take over. Cheung Po Tsai, however, was more than just Ching Shih’s adopted son –- the young man had also been Ching I’s lover.