Feminist Frequency in its new series, #OrdinaryWomen: Daring to Defy History, is continuing its run of making awesome little profiles of awesome women who we’ve already profiled here at some time in the distant past. This time it’s nineteenth century Chinese pirate admiral Ching Shih.
I’m mostly just grateful to finally know how to pronounce her name.
The following was first published on 19 September 2013:
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 PanHistoria: Home of Ching Shih.