The Incorrigible Harriet Dumont

Pirates who’ve inspired me, part 6: Cheng I Sao / Ching Shih / The Dragon Lady


Wikipedia categories for Ching Shih: ”1785 births”; ”1844 deaths”; ”Chinese pirates”; ”Female pirates”; ”Chinese prostitutes”. But not Pirates. SHE COMMANDED, depending on source, 300 OR AS MANY AS 2,000 SHIPS, with a crew OF 20,000-80,000 PIRATES!

”One of the most successful female pirates” OR the most successful pirate. 

She entered history as a prostitute, chosen by the then pirate king as one of a group of ”ehh, maybe I’ll marry one of you ladies”, and when chosen for her beauty and unshackled, she attacked him. The pirate in question was pirate enough to realise that this was the best possible reaction, and they negotiated their way to partnership (and marriage). They both had brilliant heads for strategy and business, and ended up commanding the most successful fleet in the pirate navy.

When her husband died she basically told the other captains ”Do you think I’d bow to you when I was equal to him?” and made them bow down. As her consort she took her husband’s adopted (kidnapped) son (and possibly lover), and she/they made piracy an extremely efficient industry, and also issued a severe and grimly fair set of The Pirate Code. (No rape. Booty processed democratically. Villagers to be treated fairly. No disobeying the captain.) And then, having conquered everything and ruling everything, at the height of her fame and fortune, she negotiated a full pardon where she got to keep all her loot and retire in peace.

Obviously, this was 200 years ago, so sources differ, and none can be counted as actual fact; the above is one very abbreviated version of the story. But do listen to the episode from Stuff You Missed In History Class.

There was supposed to be a TV series coming about Ching Shih, starring Maggie Q, what happened … Aha! Looks like it’s now in pre-production! Please don’t be objectifying and exotifying or wallow in the ”exceptional woman” trope!!! Be a dragon.