Queen of the South China Seas
This pirate lady makes the likes of Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Captain Morgan look like small time sea hustlers. Not only was she a sharp cookie who saw a piracy as a way out of the gutter, literally, but she took plundering to a whole other level!
Let’s begin at the beginning. Shi Xiang Gu was born in 1775 in the Guangdong province, China. Becoming into a beautiful young woman, she was captured by pirates while working in a small brothel. The leader of the pirates, Zheng Yi, fell in love with Chi on the spot and asked her to marry him. She agreed to marry him but only if certain conditions were met, including that she would be his equal in leading the pirate fleet and that half of all the plunder he captured would be hers. Truly captivated by the girl, Zheng Yi accepted. From this time Shi becomes best known by the name Ching Shih.
Between the two pirate captains they commanded over 300 ships and a crew numbering anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000. Together they terrorised the South China seas and built a powerful coalition of Cantonese pirate fleets, each colour coded, with their own fleet being the Red Flag Fleet.
On her husband’s untimely death in Vietnam in 1807, Ching Shih worked fast to sure up her position as leader of the pirate fleets, calling in favours left, right and centre, and she went on to control the trade routes along the coast along Guangdong, China and Vietnam.
Ching Shih was a ruthless pirate captain in her own right, instilling a strict code of conduct among her crew that covered everything from the dispersion of wealth to treatment of prisoners to the punishment of deserters. Any of her men was permitted to take a beautiful female captive as his wife or concubine, but if he was not faithful to her he was beheaded. Similarly, recalling her time as a captive Ching Shih ensured that female prisoners were treated with respect and any man who raped a captive was executed. All plunder captured was split between the fleet who took the treasure (who received 20%) and a kind of collective for the fleet, with the majority of the booty going to the community coffers.
Shih then fell in love with and married a fellow pirate named Chang Pao, who may or may not have been her husband’s former lover (he was believed to be bi-sexual). They had a son, but when Chang died suddenly of unknown causes Shih retired from the pirate life and went on to run a successful gambling house. She died peacefully at the age of 69. When she retired from her piracy Shih kept all the riches she had obtained during her decades long reign as the ‘Terror of the South China Seas’.