Ching Shih 1775- 1844
The eighteenth century, it was the golden age of piracy and the seas were governed by no one. Blackbeard and his fiery facial hair were pillaging English vessels, Captain Kidd was making out with Armenian ships and all the treasures on them and the femme fatales, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, were becoming infamous off the coast of the Americas. Perhaps the most feared and most powerful pirate of them all was Ching Shih.
Like many pirates, Ching Shih had humble beginnings. In her twenties, she was making a living entertaining lonely sailors in the floating brothels in Canton. There she met Zhèng Yi, with whom she began sailing on the high seas, commanding the Red Flag Fleet. With Ching in control, the Fleet grew from 200 ships to 600 in just six years. By 1807, Ching and Zhèng had amassed about 1,750 ships. In that same year Zhèng Yi died in a typhoon, leaving Ching in complete control of the fleet.
Ching laid out some pretty harsh rules for her men. Stealing or looting from a town that provided the fleet aide resulted in death by beheading. Stealing from the pirate treasury resulted in death by beheading. Raping any women captured by the fleet resulted in death by beheading. Having sex while on duty resulted in death by beheading. Sailors were allowed to marry captured women, but treating those women badly resulted in death by beheading. Trying to desert the fleet resulted in chopped off ears, which would then be passed around to all the other pirates as a nice little warning.
Ching sailed up and down the Chinese coast pillaging towns and plundering ships. She would even occasionally send smaller ships up rivers inland to attack unsuspecting and unprepared towns. The Chinese government were fairly unhappy about Ching’s power. In 1808, they sent an Imperial fleet to put her in her place. Ching decided to take the Imperials head on and the Red Flag Fleet kicked ass. She even captured sixty-three more ships. Sailors captured from the Chinese Navy were given a choice, join the Red Flag Fleet or be beaten to death by clubs. Ching got some new recruits that day. The Chinese government then enlisted the help of Dutch and British warships to try and bring Ching down. None succeeded.
Finally, in 1810 the Chinese government felt the best option to deal with Ching Shih was to just grant her amnesty and call it a day. Ching accepted and retired with all the treasure she amassed from her days at sea. Ching was one of the few pirates who were allowed to keep their loot and live into their old age unpunished. Her Navy was more powerful than that of most countries, something almost completely unknown to pirates. Ching was a terror to her enemies but just to people loyal to her.