According to legend, the greatest pirate ever to have lived may have been a woman by the name of Zheng Shi
According to legend, the greatest pirate ever to have lived was a woman known by several names, including Zheng Yi Sao, Zheng Shi, Cheng Shih, Madame Ching, and more.
It all started with a fateful meeting with a pirate by the name of Zheng Yi. In the 1800s, he and his crew were busy ravaging the region now known as Guangdong when they happened to capture a brothel girl that caught Zheng Yi’s attention. Although she agreed to marry him, she did so under the condition that he would share his treasure and power with her. He agreed. Through diplomacy and business deals with Zheng Yi’s rivals, his wife Zheng Shi (as she would come to be known, meaning the widow Zheng), managed to help put together a fleet of around 1500 ships, a force to be reckoned with. In addition, she made several strategic offers of protection to villages in exchange for tribute.
Although Zheng Yi died in 1807, Zheng Shi would not fade into the historical background. In fact, upon Zheng Yi’s death, Zheng Shi, was quick to put Zheng Yi’s first mate to work (presumably to stave off doubts that might come from a woman running the show). After taking over, Zheng Shi’s power and influence only continued to grow. Zheng Shi’s navy, The Red Flag Fleet, was said to have over 1800 ships and 60,000 men at it’s height (about 30 times more than all of the different factions of Caribbean pirates put together) (the global dispatch).
Although she achieved great wealth and power, Zheng Shi’s reign over Southern China and the South China Sea was not entirely a reign of terror. There was a strict and somewhat ruthless code of conduct that all of the crew were forced to abide by:
- If you disobey an order, you get your head chopped off and body thrown in the ocean.
- If you steal anything from the common plunder before it has been divvied up, you get your head chopped off and body thrown in the ocean.
- If you rape anyone without permission from the leader of your squadron, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown in the ocean.
- If you have consensual sex with anyone while on duty, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown in the ocean and the woman involved would get something heavy strapped to her and also tossed in the ocean.
- If you loot a town or ship of anything at all or otherwise harass them when they have paid tribute, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown into the ocean.
- If you take shore-leave without permission, you get your head chopped off and body thrown into the ocean.
- If you try to leave the organization, you get your head… ha, just kidding, in this case you get your ears chopped off.
- Captured ugly women were to be set free unharmed. Captured pretty women could be divvied up or purchased by members of the Red Flag Fleet. However, if a pirate was awarded or purchased a pretty woman, he was then considered married to her and was expected to treat her accordingly. If he didn’t, he gets his head cut off and body thrown in the ocean.