Under the Red Flag Banner
Madame Ching or Ching Shih (1775–1844) also known as Cheng I Sao was a prominent pirate in middle Qing China, who terrorized the China Sea in the early 19th century. She commanded over 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates— men, women, and even children; though other sources report that she had more than 1,500 vessels of various sizes with a crew upwards of 180,000. She entered into conflict with the existing empires of the time, such as the British, Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. She was one of the few pirate captains to retire from piracy.
Early Life and Marriage to Cheng
She was born Shi Xianggu in 1775 in Guangdong. She was a Cantonese prostitute who worked in a small brothel in Guangzhou, but was captured by pirates. In 1801, she married Cheng I, a notorious pirate. The name she is best remembered by simply means "Cheng's widow".
Cheng I belonged to a family of successful pirates who traced their criminal origins back to the mid-seventeenth century. Following his marriage to Ching Shih, "who participated fully in her husband’s piracy", Cheng I used military assertion and his 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; by this time they were known as the Red Flag Fleet.
Ascension to Leadership
On 16 November 1807, Cheng I died in Vietnam. Ching Shih immediately began maneuvering her way into his leadership position. Since Ching Shih would have such a large force at her command, she knew she needed someone to assist her in managing the Red Flag Fleet's day-to-day operations, but remain loyal to her and be accepted by the low-level pirates. She believed there was only one man for the job, Cheung Po Tsai.
Cheung Po Tsai was the son of a fisherman in Hong Kong and had been impressed into piracy at age 15, when he was captured by Cheng I and the two became lovers. Cheung rose rapidly through the ranks and was eventually adopted by Cheng I to give him the Rights of a son and heir. As soon as Ching Shih chose Cheung, she acted quickly to solidify the partnership with intimacy. The two became lovers within weeks and eventually married. Ching Shih gave birth to a son sometime between the ages of 32 and 35 with Cheung.
Once she held the fleet’s leadership position, Ching Shih started the task of uniting the fleet by issuing a code of laws.
Ching Shih's code had special rules for female captives. If a pirate took a wife he had to be faithful to her.
Violations of other parts of the code were punished with flogging, clapping in irons, or quartering. Deserters or those who had left without official permission had their ears chopped off, and then were paraded around their squadron
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Actress: Joy Wang