red flag fleet

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.

Keep reading

Ching Shih.  I will be playing a pirate this weekend.  For once I will not be pretending to be a man in order to be involved in the fun stuff because there is plenty of evidence that female pirates have been forces to be reckoned with throughout the ages.  From before christ, women have been the scourge of the seas, fighting and thieving alongside the men.  Admittedly, some women did dress as men but there are plenty that felt no need to hide their gender.  I will be dressing more in keeping with the Anne Bonny era but whilst researching my role the lady in the picture came to my attention.

Operating in the early 19th century down the coast of China and Vietnam, Ching Shih went from prostitute to pirate royalty and, unusually, she was able to retire from piracy and live out her life in comfort.  Arguably, this savvy lady is the most successful pirate of all time.  At one point it is estimated that she had 1800 ships under her command and 70,000 people at her disposal, mostly pirates but also farmers and others who supplied her ships and paid taxes to her.  She defeated the Chinese navy and kept the British and Portuguese navies at bay.  

All those who sailed within her Red Flag Fleet were subject to a strict code of conduct that saw pirates beheaded for disobeying commands or issuing commands that were not sanctioned by their commanders, whippings for anyone that held back booty and rules protecting captured women.  Rape was punishable by death and if a woman was taken as wife or concubine the man had to remain faithful or face beheading.

Ching Shih was not a lady to be messed with.  Her military prowess and business acumen made her such a threat that the Chinese government were left with no choice but to offer her and most of her pirates amnesty.  She negotiated a startlingly generous settlement for herself that allowed her to keep her vast fortune and saw her made ‘Lady by Imperial Decree’, effectively she became a member of the aristocracy and enjoyed the protection that this status gave her.  Retiring from piracy at 35, she set up a gambling house / brothel in Canton and lived to the respectable age of 69.

For all the other pirates you may have heard of, this woman blows every one of them out of the water.