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← The Fearless Life of Ching Shih #OrdinaryWomen

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Showing Revision 2 created 11/03/2016 by Ebony Adams.

  1. When most people think of pirates,
  2. they imagine hulking, fearsome men
  3. with names like Blackbeard or Long John Silver.
  4. Although the vast majority of pirates
  5. throughout history have been male,
  6. One of the most famous and feared pirates
  7. who ever lived was
  8. Ching Shih --
  9. a young Cantonese woman who became the ruler
  10. of one the largest pirate fleets in history,
  11. and the mastermind behind
  12. a floating criminal empire so powerful,
  13. that even the Chinese military couldn't stop it.
  14. We don't know much about her early life,
  15. except that at one point,
  16. she worked at a brothel in Canton.
  17. In 1801, Ching Shih married a pirate commander
  18. named Ching I,
  19. and soon ruled by his side
  20. as he expanded his empire,
  21. unifying countless small, scattered crews of pirates
  22. into an organized
  23. and increasingly powerful coalition.
  24. When her husband died suddenly in 1807,
  25. Ching Shih knew exactly what to do.
  26. She stepped in to claim the leadership for herself,
  27. taking control of somewhere between
  28. 40,000 and 60,000 pirates.
  29. Their acceptance of a woman as their commander
  30. remains a remarkable testament to both
  31. her political skill and the respect
  32. she must have earned from the crew.
  33. She soon appointed her adopted son,
  34. Chang Pao,
  35. as the commander of her most powerful fleet
  36. and eventually married him.
  37. It was a little creepy,
  38. but the two became a formidable team
  39. whose raids were feared through
  40. the South China Sea.
  41. We don't know exactly what Ching looked like,
  42. although some historians have assumed
  43. she caught the eye of her pirate husband
  44. through good looks rather than `
  45. her considerable intelligence.
  46. While there are many flamboyant but dubious
  47. accounts invented by Western writers of a
  48. gorgeous goddess,
  49. wielding swords and wearing glittering battle gear
  50. covered in golden dragons,
  51. more reliable texts describe Ching Shih
  52. as a good military strategist,
  53. a strict disciplinarian,
  54. and an excellent businesswoman.
  55. Although she rejected many traditional ideas
  56. about what women could and couldn't do,
  57. other rules were extremely important:
  58. namely, those enforced on her ships.
  59. With the help of a code of conduct
  60. drawn up by Ching Pao,
  61. she helped establish clear rules for the behavior,
  62. finances, and power structure of the fleet --
  63. As well as the draconian punishment that awaited
  64. anyone who dared to disobey or cheat her.
  65. Her rule was unquestionably harsh:
  66. not only for the victims of her raids,
  67. but for anyone in the fleet who dared
  68. to step out of line.
  69. All plunder had to be registered,
  70. with 80% of the loot paid into a general fund.
  71. Somewhat ironically,
  72. stealing from the fund
  73. was one of the worst crimes a pirate could commit,
  74. and the punishment was death.
  75. As one observer noted,
  76. Ching Shih's strict and often lethal reaction
  77. to misbehavior kept the crew very honest.
  78. And the pirates under her command
  79. took great care to behave themselves well.
  80. Through careful and ruthless management,
  81. Ching Shih made the bloody and chaotic work
  82. of piracy into a highly organized business.
  83. And business was good --
  84. making her a very wealthy woman.
  85. And, of course,
  86. like so many male leaders,
  87. conquerors, and generals
  88. throughout history,
  89. her prosperity and success
  90. came at the cost of innocent lives.
  91. Her remarkable story is a reminder that,
  92. regardless of the limitations placed on them,
  93. women can be anything that men can be:
  94. brilliant and brutal,
  95. courageous and cruel,
  96. powerful and dreadful.
  97. The Chinese government devoted
  98. considerable effort to crushing the pirates,
  99. but, thanks in large part to
  100. Ching Shih's strategic skill,
  101. her fleets became so powerful
  102. that the government eventually stopped
  103. trying to destroy them,
  104. and started trying to negotiate with them instead.
  105. Ching Shih knew that piracy was not
  106. a wise long term career --
  107. especially when the most common
  108. retirement plan was death.
  109. So, in 1810,
  110. she stepped off a boat,
  111. surrounded by the wives and children
  112. of her pirates
  113. and walked completely unarmed into the office
  114. of the local Governor General
  115. to discuss amnesty.
  116. With a fearsome floating army at her back,
  117. Ching Shih negotiated a very good deal.
  118. Not only was she and any other pirates
  119. who surrendered completely pardoned
  120. by the government for their many, many crimes;
  121. they got to keep their all ill-gotten plunder
  122. and even received jobs from the government
  123. if they wanted.
  124. Her husband was appointed a lieutenant
  125. in the Chinese navy,
  126. where he commanded a private fleet --
  127. made up of former pirates, of course.
  128. Thanks to her exceptional cunning and bravery,
  129. Ching Shih ended her life of piracy,
  130. not as a criminal behind bars,
  131. or the casualty of a raid gone wrong;
  132. but rather, by gathering her riches,
  133. and retiring in comfort as a law-abiding citizen.
  134. Well, mostly law-abiding.
  135. She spent her later years running
  136. a gambling establishment back in Canton,
  137. where she reportedly led a peaceful life,
  138. or at least, as peaceful as she could manage
  139. while presiding over a notorious gambling den.
  140. When she finally died in 1844,
  141. at 60 years old,
  142. she had transformed herself
  143. from a relatively powerless young woman
  144. into both the most powerful female pirate in history
  145. and into something almost as rare:
  146. a pirate who died from old age.