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The Infamous Zheng Yi Sao

Piracy is not an admirable occupation, but I have to admit I’m fascinated with one of the most successful pirates in history. Zheng Yi Sao (also known as Ching Shih, Cheng I Sao, Ching Yi Sao, and Mrs. Cheng) led a formidable confederation of pirates that resisted the imperial Chinese, British, and Portuguese navies. For more than three years she commanded a team of pirates that reigned terror along the southern coast of China robbing civilians, murdering, and capturing slaves.

Zheng Yi Sao was born in 1775. She most likely entered prostitution at a young age serving customers on a floating brothel in Guandong. In 1801, Zhen met and married Zheng Y, a pirate chief of a massive fleet, and joined his confederation.

Zheng Yi Sao quickly learned the ways of piracy and became a strong partner in her husband’s business. When her husband was suddenly killed in 1807, she took over leadership of his confederation of six fleets comprised of 800 large ships. Many of the ships were junks carrying up to 800 tons of cargo and 40 cannons.

For the next three years, Zheng Yi Sao continued attacks on cargo ships carrying gold, silver, spices, silk, Chinese porcelain, tea, and cotton. Her outstanding leadership and negotiation skills resolved infighting in the confederation of 70,000 men and outsmarted conflicts from other fleets and countries.

Zheng Yi Sao and her confederation were persistently hunted by authorities. On April 18, 1810, she gave up the chase, sailed her remaining fleet of 260 junks with flags flying into Canton Harbor, marched up to authorities, and demanded a pardon, which she was granted.

Zheng Yi Sao settled in Canton, remarried, and had a son. She managed a successful smuggling racket fronted by a gambling house. The notorious pirate died in 1844 at the age of 69.

Her ability to command a large fleet of ships and tens of thousands of men while remaining profitable is unarguably impressive. We can only imagine what she may have done had she used her skills and determination for good.

No photo or description of how Zheng Yi Sao looked exists. I imagine she was a rough and tough kind of girl from a life outdoors on the sea and her past in prostitution. The use of the beautiful image above is complimentary from my WordPress friend and colleague, Kevin, at The Beginning at Last. Check out his site for more images and posts.

Information for this post was gathered from the World History Encyclopedia. Go there for more about this famous pirate.

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