Thursday Hoyden and Talk Like a Pirate Day Special: Ching Shih

Line drawing portrait of a Chinese woman in 19th century military dress.

Madame Ching Shih

In honour of annual Talk Like a Pirate Day, this week’s Friday Hoyden is being brought forward a day, and is the fearsome pirate admiral, Madame Ching Shih.

Ching Shih has got to be the most successful pirate in the history of doing dreadful things to people on water. Her approach was very similar to the one that made the Roman army so effective: she enforced a strict code on her crews that meant a tough life, truly horrible consequences for breaching it, but substantial material reward for those who proved themselves.

After her husband, who ran a flourishing pirate crew already, died in 1807, Ching Shih took over the enterprise and made her pirate band into a force that the Chinese, British and Dutch navies could not curtail. By offering defeated crews the choice between suffering a gruesome death, or changing sides and joining her, she forged a fleet of around 1,500 ships, all under her ultimate command. By 1810 her notorious ‘Red Flag Fleet’ had amassed such a fortune, and had so severely pummelled all the soldiers and sailors, generals and peasant armies, sent by various authorities to try to shut her down, that she cheerfully accepted the amnesty for herself and her crew offered by the Chinese government. She divvied up the spoils and retired to the country where she lived to a ripe old age.

There is a hilarious history of her exploits detailed on this site, where she was once their “badass of the week” [content note for descriptions of violence and all varieties of gleefully obscene language], and a page with some further details about her ships and crew at Home of Ching Shih.


So find ye here the link to the international Talk Like a Pirate Day official website, with a map showing where events are taking place all over the world, as well as their handy English-to-Pirate translator, and fair wind to your plundering sails.

Group of men and women dressed as pirates in front of a tall ship.

The Seattle Knights in Pirate Mode

Categories: fun & hobbies, gender & feminism, history

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4 replies

  1. What does a pirate statistician program in?
    Sorry, that had to be done….
    (angharad, who is finishing off the wine)

  2. I didn’t get to do anything for Talk Like A Pirate Day, unless watching Phil Harding in Time Team counts. Plus, a West Country archaeologist who says Oooh Arrr! when he finds something, and wears a hat that looks like a shipfull of pirates stamped on it, is all sorts of cool anyways. 🙂

  3. What, no hornpipe?

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