Ching Shih

Ching Shih (鄭氏, Canton-
ese: Jihng Sih; Pinyin:
Zhèng Shì), also known as
Zheng Yi Sao (lit. "wife of
Zheng Yi") (鄭一嫂,
Cantonese: Jihng Yāt Sóu;
Pinyin: Zhèng Yī Sǎo), was
a prominent female pirate
in late Qing China. As
Ching Shih engaged in illicit
activities throughout her life
and prospered in this way,
little is known about her
early life, including her date of birth. In 1801, she was working as a prostitute on one of Canton's floating brothels, and later that year she married Zheng Yi, the notorious Chinese pirate. Zheng Yi was a pirate along the Chinese coast during the 18th century. Legend had it that he was a pederast. He captured Cheung Po Tsai at age 15 and made him his young lover. Cheung was later adopted by Zheng Yi.

Zheng Yi belonged to a family of successful pirates who traced their criminal origins all the way back to the mid-seventeenth century. Following his marriage to Cheng Shih, Zheng Yi used military assertion and his family's 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.

In 1807, Zheng Yi died, and the "Widow Ching" (as she has been referred to by some) maneuvered her way into his leadership position. At that point, the fleet under her command had established hegemony over many coastal villages, in some cases even imposing levies and taxes on settlements. In the words of Robert Antony, Ching Shih "robbed towns, markets, and villages, from Macao to Canton."

Ching Shih had a love affair with her adopted son and soon married him, having already made him her lieutenant. Cheung Po later took over the pirating business from his adopted parents.

Cheung Po Tsai was active along the Guangdong coastal area during the Qing Dynasty. His followers are said to have reached 40,000 and his fleet said to have possessed 600 ships. Cheung Po capitulated to the Chinese government in 1810 and became a captain in the Qing imperial navy. He spent the rest of his life in a comfortable government position.

An 1836 drawing of Ching Shih - Click To Enlarge