Prostitute Power: The Prostitute Turned Pirate Who Took On The Chinese, British And Portuguese Navies

Ching Shih female pirate
Ching Shih was a prostitute that rose to power to become a pirate captain and commanded a huge armada that controlled the South Chinese Sea and the Guangdong province.
Female pirates were aplenty off the coast of Asian in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there was one who reigned supreme above all. Ching Shih was born sometime around 1775 and was working as a common prostitute in a floating brothel in Canton at the age of 26. While working there, Zheng Yi, a successful pirate with a small fleet of ships at his command, known as the “Red Flag Fleet” took a liking to her. Rumor has it that Zheng Yi organized a raid to plunder the brothel and brought back his favorite prostitute. Zheng Yi and Ching Shih got married and she began helping him run the Red Flag Fleet.
Ching Shih female pirate
Their fleet grew from an initial 200 ships to 600 during the next six years with some key alliances. They formed the Cantonese Pirate Coalition with pirate Wu Shi'er. And then in 1807, they were commandeering around 1800 ships, as more pirates joined their armada. In the same year however, Zheng Yi got caught in a typhoon while out at sea and he perished.
Instead of handling the arduous task of commanding more than a thousand fleet of ships over to someone else, Ching Shih decided to take on the responsibility with Zheng Yi's first mate, 21-year-old Chang Pao, by her side. Chang Pao was a fisherman's son who was kidnapped by Zheng Yi when he was 15 and forced into a life of a pirate which he took to like a fish in water. He rapidly became the apple of Zheng Yi's eye for his intelligence, bravery and fighting skills. In fact, Zheng Yi liked him so much, he made Chang Pao his adopted son.
Ching Shih female pirate
Chang Pao led the troops in raids, rapes and looting while Ching Shih took care of “business” affairs; planning military strategies, governing and increasing the growth of the organization. Red Flag Fleet grew into something that went beyond all mainstream pirate pillaging that would put Captain Jack Sparrow to shame. At the Red Flag Fleet's pinnacle of strength in 1810, Ching Shih was in full command of more than 1800 ships and 70,000 – 80,000 pirates, reigned supreme in most of the Guangdong province, operated a massive spy network within the Qing dynasty, and dominated the South Chinese Sea.
Ching Shih was a crafty one and did not just rely on looting, blackmailing and extortion to run her pirate armada, she implemented an ad hoc government to support her pirates which included having taxes and laws established. She was basically running her pirate army like she would a country! Since she wielded the strongest criminal power over the South Chinese Sea, she set up something like a toll system where passing merchants would be guaranteed safe passage when they paid a fee. If they were stupid enough to refuse paying the entry fee, Ching Shih's pirates would be unleashed unto them.
In order to keep her pirates from running amok and disrupting all her carefully thought out business plans, she developed a set of laws they had to abide by. Basically the punishment for breaking any of these laws was “off with his head!”
List of commandments and punishments:
1. Thou shall not disobey an order.
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea.
2. Thou shall not steal... from the common plunder before it has been divvied up.
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea.
3. Thou shall not rape anyone without permission from the squadron's leader.
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea.
4. Thou shall not have consensual sex with anyone while on duty.
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea, woman involved would be strapped to a heavy object and thrown into the sea as well.
5. Thou shall not loot or harass a town or ship or anything at all if the people have paid tribute.
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea.
6. Thou shall not take shore-leave without permission
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea.
7. Thou shall not leave the organization.
Punishment for breaking: Ears chopped off.
8. Thou shall release captured ugly women and keep the captured pretty women to be divvied up or purchased by members of the Red Flag Fleet.
Punishment for breaking: No punishment. Just common sense. Why would anyone want to keep the ugly ones?
9. Thou is married to a woman he is awarded or purchased and expected to treat her with respect.
Punishment for breaking: Head chopped off and body thrown into the sea.
The list of laws were pretty easy to be remembered. Any disobedience would typically have a pirate's head decapitated.
Red Flag Fleet did not just limit itself to battles at sea, they raided towns while traveling down rivers in shallow-bottom boats. They also brought any armies that opposed them down to their knees in bloodied battles. Like there was once when two towns formed an alliance and got any army together to take Red Flag Fleet down, and the pirates defeated them with much ease. After which, Ching Shih sent her army to ransack both towns and behead every male there.
Ching Shih female pirate
The Qing Emperor was furious to learn about a female pirate controlling such a large portion of his land and subjects. He sent an army out to attack her fleet, and Ching Shih met them at sea instead of fleeing. A fierce battle ensued which led to the ultimate victory of the Red Flag Fleet. Ching Shih stole 63 of the Emperor's ships and gave the remaining crew an ultimatum; get nailed to the deck by their feet, beaten to death, or become a member of her organization. Naturally, majority of them swapped sides and enlisted in her pirate army. Which worked out very well for her because the pirates she lost in the battle was immediately replaced with new ones. The Admiral of the Emperor's army sent against her committed suicide before Ching Shih could get her hands on him.
More battles were to come for the Red Flag Fleet as the Qing Emperor refused to admit defeat and sought the assistance of the super-power British, Portugese and Dutch navies. He paid them large sums to fight the Red Flag Fleet and they waged war on Ching Shih and her pirates for two years. But it was to little success... the Red Flag Fleet won battle after battle. The Emperor either grew sick and gave up on trying to destroy her and her unbeatable pirate army, or developed admiration and respect for her as he took a different tact and offered her and most of her organization amnesty.
Ching Shih initially rejected the terms of the amnesty treaty until in 1810 when she showed up unexpected at the home of the Governor General of Canton with the intention to work out a peace treaty. She planned on retiring. The treaty indicated that the fleet would disband and give up most of their ships, and in return, the majority of them would be granted amnesty and allowed to keep the loot they had acquired during their time as pirates. While most of them got away scot-free, 126 of her crew members were executed and 250 received punishment for their crimes.
Chang Pao, who was Ching Shih's second in command and her now husband (how messed up is that? From adopted son to husband) joined the Emperor's military and was given command of 20 ships in the Qing Dynasty navy to command. The Emperor also gave Ching Shih money to distribute to her crew to help offset the cost of them switching from a life at sea to one in the mainland. Things worked out pretty well for the Red Flag Fleet.
Ching Shih female pirate
As for the invincible Ching Shih, she retired from the pirate's life at the age of 35 and was granted the rights to keep the fortune she had accumulated over the years of running her pirate empire. She was even bestowed a noble title, “Lady by Imperial Decree”. Wow that's something. How does that even happen? The Emperor went from wanting to obliterate her and her army of ruffians to welcoming her into the royal family. Her title gave her numerous perks and legal protections as a recognized member of aristocracy, and she opened a gambling house cum brothel in Guangzhou, Canton which she ran until her death at 69. During that time, she became a mother to one son, and then a grandmother. And thus was the legacy of the Queen of pirates.
Even though there was much bloodshed and cruelty when the Red Flag Fleet sailed the seas, it is still incredibly inspiring to learn about the unstoppable force that is Ching Shih. Ching Shih, who used to be just a common whore, went on to rule the seas with her iron wit and tenacity. She could have gone on ruling the Red Flag Fleet and destroying anyone or any country that stood in her way but she came up with a brilliant idea that allowed her to retire exceptionally wealthy from 9 years of her immensely successful pirate life and deemed a member of aristocracy. This proves that you can be anything and achieve great things just as long as you put your mind to it and think out of the box.
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