Our second installment of The Library of Female Pirates showcases a brief narrative from Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Translated into English by Andrew Hurley, this tale appears in the Borges collection A Universal History of Iniquity. It covers the exploits of Ching Shih, perhaps the most overwhelmingly successful female pirate of all time. A widow of a Chinese pirate, she assumed control of her deceased husband’s forces, terrorizing the Eastern seas and coastlines until the government offered her a truce.
Borges’ account contains elements of fantasy, which he admits in his introductory material, as it was published in a somewhat sensationalized “tabloid” paper. Too factual to be fiction, and too fictionalized to be factual, it is best viewed as a light form of literary entertainment. Our series will share other, more authoritative texts about Ching Shih, none of which substantiate Borges’ scene entitled “The Dragon and the Vixen.” However, Borges’ flowing and descriptive language does capture the sense of brutality and beauty we have come to associate with the lives of female pirates, whether true or not.