The famous pirate of Cheng I Sao.


Who was Cheng I Sao?

Many years ago in the South China Sea entire families lived and worked on ships instead of living on land. The women members of the families worked with the men performing such tasks as fishing, trading, and pirating. One famous female pirate of this time was Cheng I Sao the wife of Cheng I. Other names you might recognize include Ching Yih Saou, Ching Shih, and Lady Ch’ing.

Prior to her marriage to Cheng I she was a prostitute. Along with her husband they grew into a large confederation of pirates, which numbered at least 50,000. They would capture ships and those on the ships and hold them for ransom. The villages along the shoreline had to pay handsomely to keep the pirates from attaching their villages.

In 1807, Cheng I died and Cheng I Sao took over the command. After her husbands death she put her husband’s adopted son in charge of the Red Fleet. Before long they became lovers.

Under her command, Cheng I Sao ruled with an iron fist. The pirates held of the Chinese Imperial Navy that came to destroy them. By 1808, the Navy had lost 63 vessels to the pirates. Those captured were tortured, beaten, and butchered.

Villagers had to hire militias to keep the pirates from raiding. In 1809, the pirates beheaded 80 men of the Sanshan village and stole the women and children. The women and children were either held for ransom or sold into slavery.

Finally, the Imperial government asked for assistance from British and Portuguese warships. Cheng I Sao retired from privacy and in April 1810 she worked an agreement to receive amnesty with the Governor General of Canton.

Under this agreement, less than 400 pirates were not punished, 60 banished for two years, 151 exiled, and 126 executed. The last remaining 17, 318 pirates gave up all their weapons and their boats but were allowed to keep all their plunder.

At this time, Chang Pao, Cheng I Sao’s lover, was given the rank of lieutenant and command of his own private fleet. She did marry Chang Po, gave him a son, and then he died at age 36 in 1822. After his death she moved to Canton and lived out her life until her death in 1844 at the age of 69.

Cheng I Sao.

 The famous pirate of Cheng I Sao.

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