Chinese Pirates

The Cheng Pirate Family

Cheng I 鄭一

Cheng I was a powerful Chinese pirate operating from Canton (Guangdong) and throughout the South China Sea in the late 1700s. In 1801, the nefarious intrigues of the notorious Cantonese brothel Madame Shih Yang, known for her shrewd business savvy and trade in secrets through the pillow talk of her wealthy and political clientele, caught his attention. Purely as a business move, Cheng Yi made a proposal of marriage to Shih Yang to consolidate the powers of intrigue, as it were, which she is said to have agreed to by formal contract granting her a 50% control and share.

Cheung Po Tsai 张保仔

Cheung Po Tsai was a 19th-century Chinese pirate. He was also known as Cheung Po/Chang Pao/Zhang Bao (“Cheung Po Tsai” literally means “Cheung Po the Kid”). A famous pirate in Hong Kong, he was kidnapped by the pirate Cheng I and his wife Ching Shih when he was 15. He was adopted by the kidnappers as their son. Cheung Po later took over the pirating business from his adoptive parents. Cheung Po Tsai was active along the Guangdong (Canton) coastal area during the Qing Dynasty. His followers are said to have reached 50,000+ and his fleet said to have possessed 600 ships. His piracy mate was Cai Qian and the two worked together until Cai Qian was destroyed by the Qing government, making Cheung decide to surrender. Cheung Po capitulated to the Chinese government in 1810 and became a captain in the Qing imperial navy, receiving the rank of navy colonel and an appointment in Penghu, far away from Hong Kong. He spent the rest of his life helping the government fight other pirates.[2]

Cheung Po Tsai Cave, on Cheung Chau island. It is a small cave, said to be the place where he stored his prizes.

Cheung Po Tsai built several temples dedicated to the goddess Tin Hau and seafaring activities on Ma Wan, Cheung Chau, and Stanley.

Sao Feng’s Rolemodel

Sao Feng, one of the main villains of the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End movie, is based on myth and facts about Cheung Po Tsai. Cheung was an infamous pirate, mostly known because of a legend about his hidden treasure in Cheung Po Tsai Cave in Cheung Chau Island. Cheung Po Tsai harassed Guangdong coastal area, during the Qing Dynasty. His pirates were well disciplined, shared booty equally and were not allowed to injure or kill women. At the height of his power, Cheung’s fleet counted an army of 20,000 men and several hundred ships.

Ching Shih 郑氏

Madame Ching or Ching Shih was a prominent pirate in middle Qing China, who terrorized the China Sea in the early 19th century. She personally commanded over 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates[1]:71—men, women, and even children. The rest of her fleet, commanded by her subordinates, had more than 1,500 vessels with a crew upwards of 180,000.[2] She entered into conflict with the existing empires of the time, such as the British, Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. She was one of the few pirate captains to retire from piracy. She is considered to be the most successful female pirate and one of the world’s most powerful pirates in history.[3][4]

Cheng I belonged to a family of successful pirates who traced their criminal origins back to the mid-seventeenth century. Following his marriage to Ching Shih, “who participated fully in her husband’s piracy”,[1]:71 Cheng I used military assertion and his 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; by this time they were known as the Red Flag Fleet.[1]:71

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.”[12] The Red Flag Fleet under Ching Shih’s rule could not be defeated—not by Qing dynasty Chinese officials, not by the Portuguese navy, and not by the British.[13][14] She even captured Richard Glasspoole, an officer of the East India Company ship The Marquis of Ely, and seven British sailors in 1809.[15] But in 1810, amnesty was offered to all pirates, and Ching Shih took advantage of it.[16] She ended her career that year, accepting an amnesty offer from the Chinese government. She kept her loot, and opened a gambling house.[17] She died in 1844, at the age of 69.[17]

In 2007, in the third film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Ching Shih was portrayed as the powerful pirate Mistress Ching, one of the nine Pirate Lords.

Ching Shih started her career as a Chinese prostitute called Shih Yang. She married in 1801, to one Cheng I who commanded a pirate fleet and fought in a Vietnamese rebellion on the side of the Tay-son. They adopted a son named Chang Pao. By the time her husband died in a gale in 1807, he had united a pirate coalition numbering 400 ships and over 70,000 sailors. A master of manipulation, Cheng I Sao (literally means “wife of Cheng”), now also known as Ching Shih, took over the fleet after some political maneuvering. She shortly thereafter fell into an affair with her adopted son, having already made him her lieutenant, and married him, cementing the family’s hold on the fleet. She developed a code of laws that were strictly enforced. Commands were not to be given by anyone except the leaders of the fleet. That was considered a capital offense along with disobeying orders. If a village regularly helped the pirates, it was a capital offense to steal from them. It was a capital offense to steal from the treasury. Raping female captives was a capital offense. Even if there was fornication with a female captive at her supposed consent, the sailor was beheaded and the female cast overboard with a weight tied to her legs. If a sailor was absent without leave, or deserted and was caught, one of his ears was cut off and he was shown off through the squadron as an example.

Chen Zuyi 陳祖義

Chen Zuyi was a 15th-century Chinese pirate from Guangdong, and was one of the most respected and feared pirates to ever infest the seas of Southeast Asia. He ruled the city of Palembang, and raided the Strait of Malacca to plunder shipping and prey on both native and foreign merchants for several years,[1][2] until his defeat by Admiral Zheng He in 1407. Chen was executed at Nanjing later the same year.

According to Ming records [3] his name is first recorded after 1400, when a Ming convoy was attacked by pirates commanded by Chen Zuyi. At Palembang Chen had 5,000 men and 10 ships under his command, and was the strongest pirate of Southeast Asia at the time. The city of Sumatra had a diverse ethnicity of people from different parts of Asia, including a large minority of Han Chinese population (mostly male migrants, traders and merchants), and as well as the majority Sumatrans. A Hui Chinese, Shi Jinqing, reported the atrocities committed by the pirate chieftains, and requested assistance to help get rid of Chen Zuyi.

In 1407 Chen was confronted at Palembang by the returning Imperial treasure fleet under Admiral Zheng He. Zheng made the opening gambit, demanding Chen’s surrender,[4] and the pirate quickly signalled agreement—while preparing for a surprise pre-emptive strike. But details of his plan had been provided to Zheng by a local Chinese informant, and in the fierce battle that ensued, the Ming soldiers and Ming superior armada finally destroyed the pirate fleet and killed 5,000 of its men. Chen was captured and held for public execution in Nanjing in 1407. Peace was finally restored to the Strait of Malacca as Shi Jinqing was installed as Palembang’s new ruler and incorporated into what would become a far-flung system of allies who acknowledged Ming supremacy in return for diplomatic recognition, military protection, and trading rights. By the end of the Yongle reign, the kings or ambassadors of more than 30 foreign states had paid official visits to the emperor bearing tribute. They were ferried to China in luxurious staterooms on the Chinese treasure ships.

From the beginning the Treasure Fleet mixed business with exploration and diplomacy, carrying more than a million tons of Chinese silk, ceramics, and copper coinage on its westward runs, to be exchanged for tropical spices, fragrant woods, precious gems, animals, textiles, and minerals. And from the beginning it sailed troubled waters. Over the course of his seven expeditions Zheng He would be drawn into countless regional conflicts. Few were more storied than his 1407 encounter in the Strait of Malacca with the infamous Cantonese pirate Chen Zuyi.

Since well before the Middle Ages, the narrow passage between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula has been essential to international trade. In 1407 Chen Zuyi was its unrivaled scourge. Operating out of Palembang, a city on Sumatra with a large Chinese population, his heavily armed junks intercepted almost every convoy that passed, including the Ming armada Zheng made the opening gambit, demanding Chen’s surrender, and the pirate quickly signaled agreement—while preparing for a surprise pre-emptive strike. But details of his plan had been provided to Zheng by a local Chinese informant, and in the fierce battle that ensued, the pirate fleet was destroyed and 5,000 of its men killed. Chen was captured and held for public execution in Nanjing.

Lim Hong 林鳳

Lim Hong was a Chinese pirate and warlord who invaded the northern Philippine Islands in 1574. He built up a reputation for his constant raids to ports in Guangdong, Fujian and southern China. He is noted to have twice attempted, and failed, to overthrow the Spanish city of Manila in 1574.

Born to a poor family in the city Raoping of Chaozhou, Limahong had an early start in criminal activity and progressed to piracy, becoming leader of around 2000 pirates. His activities and attacks on ports and ships throughout southern China increased and a warrant was issued by the authorities to capture him alive and send him to the city of Tay Bin. He was married to Nataracy.

In late 1573, he gathered an army of 3,000 Chinese warriors, renegades and vagabonds and fled to the island of Luzon. There, he and his band of outlaws sought refuge, established their own kingdom and waged war with the Spaniards. By this time, a force of 40,000 soldiers and 135 ships was sent by the Ming emperor to kill and capture the pirates. Limahong and his troops first arrived in Ilocos Sur in early 1574 where they quarreled with the Spanish commander, Juan de Salcedo. After a brief struggle with the Spanish army, his troops were driven away from the city. The pirates then chanced upon merchant ships from Manila doing trade with the Chinese, and learned from two captured ships that Manila was a new and relatively unprotected Spanish settlement. From this information and the knowledge that China had a no-war policy with its neighbors during that time, he decided to capture Manila and establish himself as ruler of his would-be kingdom and stronghold.

It was November 29, 1574. The inhabitants of the town of Parañaque, a royal encomienda, was under heavy attack from the forces of this Chinese corsair, who were on their way to Intramuros, the seat of Spanish rule in the Philippines. Folk accounts have it that the inhabitants were at first disorganized, until a man from a barrio, by the name of Galo, came forward and took command. Under his able leadership, and with the arrival of Spanish forces led by Captain Juan de Salcedo from Ilocos, Limahong was repulsed and the occupation of the town was prevented.

Shortly after the escape of Limahong from Pangasinan, Captain Omoncon, who was commissioned by his emperor to capture Limahong dead or alive, arrived in Philippine waters and encountered the Spanish soldiers in Bolinao, Pangasinan. Upon being informed that Limahong escaped from Pangasinan in unworthy vessels out into the stormy China Sea, he went to Manila accompanied by Field Marshal Salcedo where the former was dined and entertained. To cap it all, the governor ordered Salcedo and the soldiers to deliver to Captain Omoncon all Chinese pirates captured in Pangasinan, binding himself to pay to the soldiers to whom such belonged the appraised value of the captives. This done, he ordered everything necessary for the voyage to be fully prepared, which was done within a few days. In return for all this kindness, Captain Omoncon agreed to take along with him to China some Augustinian friars to spread Roman Catholicism. He departed with the priests amidst the salvo of goodwill and friendship.

On December 3, 1574, Limahong and his bandits left Manila for Pangasinan and established a kingdom near the mouth of Agno River. Limahong a notorious Chinese pirate and warlord who invaded the northern Philippine Islands in 1574, announced to the people that he had conquered the Spaniards and that he had come to rule over them as their king. He also built pagodas and dwelling places preparatory for permanent settlement. Great terror and fright filled all the neighboring villages, and all of them, with no exception, received Limahong as king, and they obeyed him and paid him tributes.