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Ching Shih

Ching Shih (d. 1844) first became known as a Cantonese prostitute called Shih Yang. She married in 1801, to one Cheng I who commanded a pirate fleet and fought in a Vietnamese rebellion on the side of the Tay-son. They adopted a son named Chang Poa. By the time her husband died in a gale in 1807, he had united a pirate coalition numbering 400 ships and over 70,000 sailors.

A master of manipulation, Cheng I Sao (wife of Cheng), now also known as Ching Shih, took over the fleet after some political maneuvering. She shortly therafter fell into an affair with her adopted son, having already made him her lieutenant, and married him, cementing the family's hold on the fleet.

She developed a code of laws that were strictly enforced. Commands were not to be given by anyone except the leaders of the fleet. That was considered a capital offense along with disobeying orders. If a village regularly helped the pirates, it was a capital offense to steal from them. It was a capital offense to steal from the treasury. Raping female captives was a capital offense. Even if there was fornication with a female captive at her supposed consent, the sailor was beheaded and the female cast overboard with a weight tied to her legs. If a sailor was absent without leave, or deserted and was caught, one of his ears was cut off and he was shown off through the squadron as an example.

Her fleet committed many varying kinds of piracy, from the traditional weak merchant ships, to sacking and pillaging villages inland along rivers. The government tried to destroy the pirates in a series of battles in January 1808, however all they managed to do was to give the pirates even more ships for the fleet. The damage was great enough that the Government had to utilize private fishing vessels. The real threat came from other pirates, and a rival called O-po-tae forced Ching Shih's fleet to retreat. Because of his worry about the revenge that could be exacted on him, O-po-tae sought a pardon for his men from the government and it was granted. Ching Shih also sought pardon for her fleet in 1810, now that the government could concentrate on her men and ships, and received it. Chang Poa spent the rest of his life in a comfortable government position, while Ching Shih died at the age of 60 in 1844, running a brothel and gambling house in Guangzhou.

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