Is Ching Shih The Most Bad Ass Woman In History?
There have been many people in history who's lives have been so extraordinarily bad ass that they sound more like the plot of a film than a true tale. But, out of the countless life stories I have read, it the the life story of Ching Shih which stands out above the rest.
Who was Ching Shih?
Ching Shih was a female pirate in the 1800's who ran and controlled the largest pirate confederation in history, at its peak she had control of over 70, 000 men with an estimated total of over 18, 000 ships!
Although there is fairly limited knowledge available about her youth, I will break down what we can figure out.
Ching was born in the year 1775 in the Guangdong province of China and at birth, she was named ShiI Xiang Gu. We then know that she became a prostitute and worked in a floating brothel in Canton, where she was the favourite prostitute of the famous Chinese pirate Zhèng Yi.
One day Zhèng Yi proposed to Shih who accepted under the agreed conditions that she would be given some form of authority and power within the pirate commander's organisation, and that she be given an equal and representative share of all the future plunder and wealth they would accumulate together. From that day forward, they ran the Red Flag pirate fleet together.
In the following years, the pirate duo led the Red Flag Fleet to new heights, establishing themselves as a pirate superpower. They thrived and increased their fleet from 200 ships to over 600. Working with another famous Cantonese pirate Wu Shi’er, they formed the infamous Cantonese pirate coalition. Sadly, after only 6 years of marriage, in 1807 her husband Zhèng Yi died. But, not wanting to give up the power and wealth she had gained over the past years, Shih stepped up to lead the coalition with the help and support of her adopted son turned lover Chang Pao.
With the entire fleet under her rule, it flourished and became even more powerful than before. Ching ran the fleet with an iron fist and imposed strict rules to retain order and control. Some of her rules which if broken were punishable by death included any form of violence against a women and marrying a women without her consent. There were other less harsh forms of punishments for pirates in her fleet that broke other rules, such as having their ears cut off or being flogged.
With such a large army of pirates to keep fed, happy and healthy, she paid villagers from surrounding areas to grow grapes for wine, and produce rice etc. in order to keep her fleet well supplied. The villagers who worked for Ching were kept safe under her protection and any pirate who attacked these farmers were to be executed!
Madame Ching's Victories
After many years Ching was never defeated, even the Chinese Emperor unhappy with a pirate becoming so powerful waged war against her and lost. He sent his armada into battle to take on the Red Flag Fleet. Ching was unphased and not easily intimidated so sent her own fleet to face the Armada head on! Her pirate army made quick work of the Emperor's fleet and she captured 63 of their best ships, giving the crew an ultimatum, join her or be killed.
Following this defeat, the Emperor drafted the help of the British and Portuguese Navy's who were superpowers at the time to help fight against Ching. These conflicts lasted over 2 years with Ching still undefeated. The Emperor eventually decided to call off the war after spending vast amounts of money to gain the help of the foreign naval forces and decided to offer her an amnesty treaty.
Madam Ching eventually accepted the agreement allowing her to keep all her wealth in return for disbanding her fleet. In addition to this, the majority of her crew were given pardons and offered the chance to sign up to the Chinese military.
What did Ching do in her retirement
As part of her amnesty agreement, Ching was given the title “Lady by Imperial Decree" giving her special nobility status entitling her to legal protection as she was classed as being part of Chinese aristocracy. At age 35 she retired and opened her own casino and brothel in Guangzhou, Canton. She ran the establishment all the way up until her death at age 69.
For me, what makes Ching's story so special and interesting is that unlike the majority of other famous pirates, she not only escaped execution but lived a long life, wealthy life as a member of the Chinese Aristocracy!
After reading this I'm sure you will agree, she truly was amazing and a real bad ass!
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my others!