The Woman Pirate Who Terrorized the Whole of China

By Molly L.
Photo source

In a public education, you rarely find stories about women. There are the few allegories smattered through the textbook, but no real in depth stories about the women who truly kick ass. Women like Ching Shih.

To illustrate this point, I did a quick search for the top ten pirates of all time. Almost All were male, and a majority were European. Ching Shih didn’t make it on the list, despite the fact that she was as good as (or better than) those on the list.

Ching Shih starts out from not so humble roots. She was a prostitute, sold into marriage with pirate captain Ching I.

After she joins her husband’s fleet, it starts getting better. It goes from a pretty decent sized fleet, raking in some pretty decent profit to a full-sized, terror of the seas, ass-kicking Armada.

Her husband dies six years later (from a tsunami) but this doesn’t phase Ching Shih, instead she marries the first mate and takes control of her husband’s fleet. Y’know like any normal woman in the 1800’s would do.

Since this obviously isn’t the norm, she starts laying down the law real quick, creating a code of conduct that usually ends with lawbreakers losing a part of their body (often their heads).

For Example:

  • If you rape one of the women held in captivity, you lose your head.
  • If you have consensual sex with a woman on the job the man gets beheaded and the woman gets drowned.
  • Stealing, or even suspicion of stealing ended up in, you guessed it, losing your head.
  • If you deserted you would be hunted down, and get your ear chopped off and passed around as an example.

Basically, she kept most of her crew terrified and sexually frustrated so they would kick butt whenever they went into battle.

For the year after her husband died Ching Shih sailed up and down the Chinese coast terrorizing everyone and everything. Even towns farther up-river weren’t safe; she built flat bottom boats to sail farther inland so she could torment more towns, and rake in more gold. So she was super smart as well as ruthless.

By 1809, the Chinese government got sick of Ching Shih’s reign of terror, so they sent out an imperial fleet to deal with the problem.

Now, imperial fleets were nothing to scoff at. These were the fleets that stood up to (and yeah, lost to) the British during the opium wars. But the fleets were impressive, imbued with the centuries of Chinese naval advancement, and backed by a body of powerful people way larger than who Ching Shih had at her disposal.

She didn’t care, and sure as hell wasn’t going to turn tail and run like many male pirates at the time would’ve. She faced the might of the army head on, and won.

In total she captured 63 ships from the Chinese government. Any soldier that was seized was given two options: join or die.

Specifically, join or be beaten to death. Because of this, her crew never experienced a huge dip in enrollment. So after she won, she was still at her full might. The Chinese were not.

Ching Shih was so powerful, and so terrible, that instead of allowing himself to be captured, the admiral of the Chinese Navy committed suicide. Which, really, was his best decision.

The next two years of her life were spent at sea, vanquishing foes from renegade pirates to the might of the Dutch and British navy, all sent to hunt her down. They too failed.

In 1810 she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government, and retired from pirating with all of her loot.

She got away with a solid decade of all-out terror in China. Ching Shih was so powerful, cunning, and terrible, that the Chinese government’s only option was to offer her pardon to make her stop.

She probably died an incredibly rich, incredibly famous woman. A woman who didn’t stand for anyone’s shit, and got what she wanted out of life.

So, sure, she beheaded some people. Not everyone is perfect. She still belongs among the ranks of strong historical women that often get forgotten. Women who stood up to their born disadvantage and kicked ass. Women who got what they wanted out of life, even when faced with tremendous difficulties.

It’s these women we aspire to become. It’s these women that we look up to. Their level of greatness we desire to achieve.

History textbooks are full of powerful men. It’s time we fill something with the stories of powerful women.



Molly is a 17 year old female entering her Senior year of high school. She’s a huge history buff (obviously) and writes fiction and fanfiction almost non stop. You can find her on her tumblr.

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