Piracy in the Far East: A Family Affair [Women Pirates, Part 2]


January 18, 2011
98 Views

If you missed part 1 of my women pirates blog, fear not: you can still read it here.

Compared to the West, the Far East was much more accommodating toward women on ships. In fact, it was noted that pirate communities in the Far East had no settled residences on land. Rather, they lived constantly on their ships with their entire families. Thus, it was not uncommon for women to take an active role in handling ships and sailing them into raids.

Ching Shih: History’s Most Successful Pirate

It was against this backdrop that Ching Shih started life as a prostitute in Canton before marrying the leader of a pirate band named Cheng I. When her husband died in 1807, she positioned herself well among her relatives and assumed command of the pirate navy. She assigned her husband’s adopted son, whom she later married, to command the primary pirate fleet.

She was, for all intents and purposes, the pirate community’s CEO, concerned with long term strategic planning and policy. Her second husband, Chang Pao, was the Chief Operating Officer, concerned with the day-to-day running of the community. Between the two of them, they put in place a strict code of conduct that beheaded anyone caught stealing from the common treasure, and even dealt with the issue of rape by beheading, which is unusual for a pirate community.

A Pirate Armada

For three years, the pirates fought off all government attempts to bring them to justice with the final result being the loss of 63 government vessels. At the height of its power, the pirates had some 200 ocean going junks with 20 to 30 cannons apiece. There were a number of smaller, river-going vessels as well that ensured that coastal communities paid for the pirates’ “protection.”

It was not until Chinese officials enlisted the help of English and Portuguese warships, combined with an ever-increasing number of Chinese naval ships, that Ching Shih took the initiative to meet with the emperor and amnesty was offered. As she was negotiating from a position of strength, she was able to ensure that her sailors were able to keep all of their plunder and join the military as experienced fighters once they gave up their ships and weapons. Based on this agreement, her husband joined the military at the rank of Lieutenant and eventually rose to the rank of Colonel before his death at the age of 36.

After her career as a pirate, Mrs. Cheng led a peaceful life running a gambling house until she passed away at the age of 69 in 1844.

This is my final post for the HMNS blog on Pirates!

Check out previous posts to read up on pirate history and lore – and come see me at the Houston Maritime Museum and see a wide variety of ships, including those used by pirates, on display.

How To Rule the Sea: A Guide For Privateers 1500s – 1800s
Jean Laffite: Texas Pirate
Pirates: Romance vs. Reality
Real Pirates: Attackers, Thieves…Equal Opportunity Employers?
Women Pirates – Scourges of the High Seas! [Part 1]

Real Pirates is in its final weeks! Preview this stunning exhibit in the slideshow below. Click here to view if it loads slowly.

Ben
Authored By Ben Pfeiffer

Graduating with a Master's in History from Texas Tech University, Ben Pfeiffer first developed a love of maritime history as an intern at the Battleship Texas. Currently, he is the Assistant Director of the Houston Maritime Museum where he is involved in educational programming, membership and volunteer coordination, exhibit design, and curatorial work. Ben will be contributing a series of posts in conjunction with the Real Pirates exhibition at HMNS.

2 responses to “Piracy in the Far East: A Family Affair [Women Pirates, Part 2]”

  1. Josh says:

    Great post and website! It may interest you to know that the Penn Museum in Philadelphia is presenting an exhibit on the history of the Silk Road. Check it out – http://www.penn.museum/silkroad/

  2. Erin F says:

    Hi Josh! That exhibit actually just closed here at HMNS – it was on display here through Jan. 2. It’s a beautiful exhibit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Become An HMNS Member

With a membership level for everyone; Don't just read about it, see it.

View All Membership Levels

Editor's Picks New Special Exhibition at HMNS – Vanishing Arts: Highlights from the Beasley-Hwang Collection Your Spring Break Guide for a Fossil-filled Visit to HMNS Google’s Field Trip Days At HMNS Missed Connections: Malachite And The Ancient Egyptians Everything you need to know about the Hubble Telescope Raptors – Group Hunters or Cannibals?
Follow And Subscribe

Equally Interesting Posts




HMNS at Hermann Park

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston,Texas 77030
(713) 639-4629


Get Directions Offering varies by location
HMNS at Sugar Land

13016 University Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479
(281) 313-2277


Get Directions Offering varies by location
George Observatory

21901 FM 762 Rd.
Needville, Texas 77461
(281) 242-3055

Hours
Tuesday - Saturday By Reservation
Saturdays 3:00PM - 10:00PM
Saturdays (DST) 3:00PM - 11:00PM
DST = Daylight Savings Time.
Please call for holiday hours. Entry to Brazos Bend State Park ends at 9:30 p.m. daily
Get Directions Offering varies by location

Stay in the know. Join our mailing list.