A Woman to Know: Ching Shih

Her origins were humbler, but rooted in maritime tradition. — writer Joan Druett

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


In the early part of the 19th century, Ching Shih was brought on board as a teenage prostitute for the Red Flag pirate captain — and within five days of his untimely death, she was running the ship.

Not just *a* ship, either. For the next two decades, Ching Shih commanded the most powerful pirate fleet in the South China Sea.

As captain of more than 70,000 pillagers in her Red Flag Fleet, Ching set hard rules: no stealing, rape, and no mistreatment of female hostages — all were punished by execution on the plank. She grew her fleet to more than 1,500 junks, traveling throughout the Asian seas to spread her renown. Sailors remembered her as Ching Shih, Cheng I Sao and Pirate Madam Ching ("Mistress Ching" when they fictionalized here in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies). Her fleet faced off against the Chinese, Portugese and British navies, and after decades of pirating, Ching Shih retired in 1810, after negotiating amnesty for her entire crew.

But pirate queens don't just retire — instead, Ching Shih established a gambling house, where she luxuriated in her wealth and fame until her death in 1844.

Add to your library list:

​​Read more:

Hear more:

** Send your own recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition. You can browse the archive here. **