Ching Shih


Ching Shih (Cheng I Sao) (1775-1844)
First female pirate, more badass than Blackbeard

In her words: No direct documentation exists for Ching Shih

In others’ words: “Where business acumen starts to display itself is in the way she became the overall head of the entire confederation”

Bio: Ching Shih or Cheng I Sao (“widow of Cheng I”) married pirate Cheng I on the sole condition that she would receive equal power within his organization and split their loot equally. When he died in 1807, she married Cheung Po Tsai (her first husband’s adoptive son and her stepson) and started the Cantonese Pirate Coalition with Wu Shi’er. She captained a massive fleet that could not be captured or defeated by the Chinese, Portuguese, or British navies. The code of law that she administered over her 80,000 pirates and 1,800 ships included the following provisions to protect women from sexual violence:

  • female captives were to be released (standard practice)
  • if a pirate married a woman he had to be faithful
  • if a pirate raped a female captive he would be killed immediately
  • if a pirate stole from a town that provided assistance to their fleet, he would be beheaded
  • if a pirate resisted Ching Shih, she would punish them by nailing their feet to her ship’s deck and beating them

When she retired in 1810, she negotiated with Chinese government to ensure pardons for herself and all her pirates, and the promise that she would keep all of her loot in the process.