Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
From prostitute to pirate captain, Ching Shih (1775-1844) lived an extraordinary life that far surpassed expectations for a woman of her time and place. Abducted by pirates from a Canton brothel, Shih married their notorious captain, Cheng I, and oversaw his crew, the Red Flag Fleet, beside him. When he died in a typhoon a few years later, Ching Shih maintained her leadership position and married Cheng I’s right-hand man, Cheung Po Tsai, to cement her authority. Shih commanded over seventy thousand pirates, including many additional small fleets that had joined up with her own. The Red Flag Fleet controlled the Southern China seas and made their profits from merchants paying for safe passage through the lucrative trade route.
Shih ran a tight ship, as she nailed a strict code of conduct to every boat in the fleet. The laws required her approval for all raids, fair distribution of loot, and a no-tolerance policy on rape or even consensual sex between pirates and female captors unless the pirate chose to marry the female prisoner and be faithful to her. Violators of her edicts could be punished by being clapped in irons, flogged, quartered, or beheaded. If anyone was caught trying to desert the fleet, their ears were cut off and passed around to shame them. These surprisingly civil laws kept her fleet in line, and they became the “Terror of South China.” When the Chinese navy attempted to take down the Red Flag Fleet in 1809, Shih sailed straight into their army and swiftly defeated the ships. Their loss was so bad that the leader of the expedition committed suicide when captured. Shih offered the survivors a choice: join her ranks, or be nailed to the boards of the ship by their feet and flogged to death. After nine years of her terror, the Qing emperor decided to offer her an amnesty deal, which she negotiated to allow her tens of thousands of pirates to return to life on land with a tidy sum and without prosecution. At thirty-five, Ching Shih achieved a rare accomplishment in the pirate world: she retired from the life to spend the rest of her days on land running a gambling house and brothel.