Madame Ching or Ching Shih, also known as Cheng I Sao, 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—men, women and she entered into conflict with the existing empires of the time, such as the British, the Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. She was one of the few captains to retire from piracy. She is considered to be the most successful female pirate and one of the worlds most powerful pirates in history, Ching Shih has been featured in numerous books, novels, video games, and films in Asia. She was born Shi Xianggu in 1775 in Guangdong and she was a Cantonese prostitute who worked in a small brothel in Guangzhou, but was captured by pirates. In 1801, she married Cheng I, a notorious pirate, the name she is best remembered by simply means Chengs widow. Cheng I belonged to a family of pirates who traced their criminal origins back to the mid-seventeenth century. By 1804, this coalition was a force, and one of the most powerful pirate fleets in all of China. On 16 November 1807, Cheng I died in Vietnam, Ching Shih immediately began maneuvering her way into his leadership position. She started to cultivate personal relationships to get rivals to recognize her status, in order to stop her rivals before open conflict erupted, she sought the support of the most powerful members of her husbands family, his nephew Cheng Pao-yang and his cousins son Cheng Chi. Then she drew on the coalition formed by her husband by building some of the fleet captains existing loyalties to her husband. She believed there was one man for the job, Cheung Po Tsai. Cheung Po Tsai was the son of a fisherman and had been impressed into piracy at age 15, Cheung rose rapidly through the ranks and was eventually adopted by Cheng I to give him the rights of a son and heir. As soon as Ching Shih chose Cheung, she acted quickly to solidify the partnership with intimacy, the two became lovers within weeks and eventually married. Ching Shih gave birth to Cheungs son sometime between the age of 32 and 35, Cheung Po Tsai died at 36 of unknown causes. Once she held the leadership position, Ching Shih started the task of uniting the fleet by issuing a code of laws. The Neumann translation of The History of Pirates Who Infested the China Sea claims that it was Cheung Po Tsai that issued the code. Yuan Yung-lun says that Cheung issued his own code of three regulations, called san-tiao, for his own fleet, but these are not known to exist in a written form, the code was very strict and according to Richard Glasspoole, strictly enforced
Ching Shih, the most powerful and successful pirate in history.
The Cheng family of the Pirates on the China Sea genealogy