Ching Shih (c. 1785 – 1844) (Cantonese: Jihng Sih; "widow of Zheng"), also known as Zheng Yi Sao (Cantonese: Jihng Yāt Sóu; "wife of Zheng Yi"), was a prominent female pirate in middle Qing China.
Ching Shih successfully engaged in illicit activities throughout her life, and therefore little is known about her early life, including her birth name and precise date of birth. The name she is best remembered by means simply "widow of Zheng".
In 1801, she was working as a prostitute on one of Canton's floating brothels, and later that year she married Zheng Yi, the notorious Chinese pirate.
Zheng Yi belonged to a family of successful pirates who traced their criminal origins back to the mid-Seventeenth century. Following his marriage to Ching Shih, Zheng Yi used military assertion and his family's reputation to gather a coalition of competing Cantonese pirate fleets into an alliance. By 1804, this coalition was a formidable force, and one of the most powerful pirate fleets in all of China
In 1807, Zheng Yi died, and Ching Shih maneuvered her way into his leadership position. The fleet under her command established hegemony over many coastal villages, in some cases even imposing levies and taxes on settlements. According to Robert Antony, Ching Shih "robbed towns, markets, and villages, from Macau to Canton."
She ended her career in 1810, accepting an amnesty offer from the Chinese government. She kept her loot, married her lieutenant and adoptive son Cheung Po Tsai, and opened a gambling house.
She died in 1844, at the age of 59.
A semi-fictionalized account of Ching Shih's piracy appeared in Jorge Luis Borges
's short story The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate
(part of A Universal History of Infamy
, first edited in 1954), where she is described as "a lady pirate who operated in Asian waters, all the way from the Yellow Sea to the rivers of the Annam coast", and who, after surrendering to the imperial forces, is pardoned and allowed to live the rest of her life as an opium
smuggler. Borges acknowledged the 1932 book The History of Piracy
, by Philip Gosse (grandson of the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse
), as the source of the tale.
In 2003, Ermanno Olmi made a film, Singing Behind Screens, loosely based on Borges's retelling, though rights problems prevented the Argentine writer from appearing in the credits.
Afterlife, a 2006 OEL graphic novel, depicts Ching Shih as a Guardian who fights demons to protect the denizens of the underworld.
The 2007 movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End depicts a "Mistress Ching" as one of the nine pirate lords. This character seems likely to have been inspired by Ching Shih, even though the film is set over a century before she lived.
On the Mediterranean EP by the Gypsy Rock Band Nanuchka, Track Two is "Madam Ching"
- Koerth, Maggie "Most successful pirate was beautiful and tough". CNN. Retrieved on 2007-08-28.
- Cheng I Sao at Rob Ossian's Pirate Cove site
More Information Can be found here: