We have only a general idea of what she looked like, this is as good a guess as any…except she wasn’t much for the fighting, more a behind the scenes pirate-master.

History knows her by many names: Shi Xiang Gu, Shi Yang, Cheng I Sao, Zheng Yi Sao, Ching Shih and no one knows what her original name was! We had to pick one to use so we went with the easiest for our American accents: Ching Shih.

Born in, probably, 1775, this brilliant and mysterious woman was a sex worker turned pirate confederacy co-creator with her husband, then turned leader of that confederacy with her second husband (who was formerly her adopted son and possibly the lover of her husband) and head pirate in charge of 80,000* other pirates. Phew, did you follow that?

*Sources really vary, that’s the high end.

Flower boats (if by “flower” you mean “Women of Negotiable Affections.”)

But she wasn’t just a scheming, planning, organizing, networking genius, she was also ruthless, cruel, calculating…and a mom! Really, Ching Shih was like no other subject we’ve ever covered. It’s quite a story made even more “fun” by the nominal, verifiable information about Ching Shih that is available so we got to talk about all the variations, legends, and downright improbabilities of this powerful woman.

Ching Shih retired from pirating and pillaging the South China sea when she was 35 in 1810. She lived a very well-funded life as (possibly) a brothel/gambling den owner for a surprisingly long time, dying at age 69 in 1844.

Ching Shih’s stomping waters, the Pear River and the South China Sea



For kids, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ching Shih’s mostly NSFW life is hard to put into a kids’ book but these two somehow managed to polish her up:

By Sarah Brennan and Harry Harrison

We should all just assume that one of Jason’s books has an entry on most all of our subjects.


Dian Murray

Jane Yolen

The History of Pirates who Infested the China Sea 1807-1810, translated from Mandarin by Charles Neumann is on Project Gutenberg, and Richard Glasspoole’s The Terrible Ladrones ,which can also be found in this book:

Laura Sook Duncomb

Linda Grant De Pauw

David Cordingly (this is the one with the illustrations that Beckett talked about.)

The one Beckett slipped in at the end of the media section,


The site Beckett talked about, Pirates and Privateers at cindyvallar.com, and the one Susan talked about written by Dian Murray about Ching Shih (or, as Ms Murray calls her, “Mrs. Cheng.”)

If you would like to tumble down a rabbit hole of US Military rules regarding adultery, the Marines have an entry portal for you. Camp Pendleton Website .


Given the dramatic nature of Ching Shih’s story, not to mention all the opportunities to fill in the blanks without some history buff screaming, “That’s not what happened!” there are only two that we could find. One is her appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End and Queen of Canton which seems to have been in production for a very long time, our hopes fade each day. Wide open field, Movie Makers!


Since recording this it looks like History on Fire is going behind a paywall on Luminary starting in April of 2019. Grab it while you can (it is a great podcast if you have ponied up for Luminary.) The China History Podcast has a seven-part series on the Qing dynasty that’s really interesting.


Come see us at PODX in Nashville, May 31-June 2! We’ll be participating in all kinds of merriment and doing a live show! For $10.00 off any ticket type visit PODX.COM/CHICKS or use the code CHICKS at checkout.

Break song, Beyond the Circle by Osamu Kitajima

End song, Gat What You Want by Beight

Used with permission by iLicense