Ching Shih (1775–1844) (simplified Chinese: 郑氏; traditional Chinese: 鄭氏; pinyin: Zhèng Shì; Cantonese: Jihng Sih; "widow of Zheng"), also known as Zheng Yi Sao (simplified Chinese: 郑一嫂; traditional Chinese: 鄭一嫂; pinyin: Zhèng Yī Sǎo; Cantonese: Jihng Yāt Sóu; "wife of Zheng Yi"), was a prominent female pirate in middle Qing China.
Ching Shih also known as Cheng I Sao terrorized the China Sea in the early 19th century. A brilliant cantonese female pirate, she commanded 1800 ships and more than 80,000 pirates — men, women, and even children. She challenged the world superpower empires at the time such as the British, Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. Undefeated, she would become one of China and Asia's strongest female pirate, and one of the world's history most powerful female pirates. She was also one of the few pirate captains to retire from piracy.
She became subject to numerous books, novels, video games and films.
Little is known about Ching Shih's early life, including her birth name and precise date of birth. She was a Cantonese prostitute who worked in small brothel of Canton, but was captured by pirates. In 1801, she married Zheng Yi, a notorious Cantonese-Chinese pirate. The name she is best remembered by means simply "widow of Zheng".
Zheng Yi belonged to a family of successful pirates who traced their criminal origins back to the mid-seventeenth century. Following his marriage to Ching Shih, Zheng Yi used military assertion and his reputation to gather a coalition of competing Cantonese pirate fleets into an alliance. By 1804, this coalition was a formidable force, and one of the most powerful pirate fleets in all of China. They seized loot in all sorts of ways — selling "protection" from pirate attacks, raiding ships, and kidnapping. In 1806, a British officer reported on the terrible fate of those who resisted Ching Shih's pirates. The pirates had nailed an enemy's feet to the deck and then beaten him senseless.
In 1807, Zheng Yi died, and Ching Shih maneuvered her way into his leadership position. The fleet under her command established hegemony over many coastal villages, in some cases even imposing levies and taxes on settlements. According to Robert Antony, Ching Shih "robbed towns, markets, and villages, from Macau to Canton." She was fearless and disciplined her men with strict rules and castrated any man who would commit rape.
The Red Flag Fleet under Ching Shih's rule could not be defeated — not by Qing dynasty Chinese officials, not by the Portuguese navy, not by the British. But in 1810, amnesty was offered to all pirates, and Ching Shih took advantage of it.  She ended her career in 1810, accepting an amnesty offer from the Chinese government. She kept her loot, married her lieutenant and adoptive son Cheung Po Tsai, and opened a gambling house.
She died in 1844, at the age of 69.
A semi-fictionalized account of Ching Shih's life appeared in Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate" (part of A Universal History of Infamy, first edited in 1954), where she is described as "a lady pirate who operated in Asian waters, all the way from the Yellow Sea to the rivers of the Annam coast", and who, after surrendering to the imperial forces, is pardoned and allowed to live the rest of her life as an opium smuggler. Borges acknowledged the 1932 book The History of of Piracy , by Philip Gosse (grandson of the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse), as the source of the tale..
Afterlife, a 2006 OEL graphic novel, depicts Ching Shih as a guardian who fights demons to protect the denizens of the underworld.
In The Wake of the Lorelei Lee, book eight of L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series, Jacky is captured by Cheng Shih and so impresses her that the pirate bestows her with a tattoo of a dragon on the back of her neck to indicate she is under Shih's protection.
In 2007, In third film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Ching shi was also known as Mistress Ching, and played the role of an powerful female pirate.
- ^ Murray, Dian H. (1987). Pirates of the South Coast, 1790-1810. Stanford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-8047-1376-6.
- ^ Lily Xiao Hong Lee, A. D. Stefanowska, Clara Wing-chung Ho - 2003 - 387 pages
- ^ Antony, Robert. Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The world of pirates and seafarers in Late Imperial South China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
- ^ Andrea J. Buchanan, Miriam Peskowitz - 2007 - 279 page
- ^ a b Koerth, Maggie (2007-08-28). "Most successful pirate was beautiful and tough". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/worklife/08/27/woman.pirate/index.html. Retrieved 2007-08-28.
- ^ Borges, Jorge Luis. A Universal History of Infamy. Dutton, 1972.
- ^ Cantando dietro i paraventi at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ Weissberg, Jay (23 October 2003). "Singing Behind Screens". Variety. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117922224.html?categoryid=31&cs=1.
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