Our third installment of The Library of Female Pirates presents a more in-depth look at the Chinese pirate Ching Shih from The History of Piracy by Philip Gosse. Due to her code which prohibited certain forms of rape of female captives, some recent writers have attempted to paint Ching as a kind of feminist hero. Gosse’s account demonstrates otherwise.
Despite the initial goodwill these codes brought her in some villages, Ching eventually left a legacy of murder and broken families all along the coasts of Chinese rivers, taking hundreds of women captive. Gosse does not tell us what happened to these captive women, but it takes little imagination to know they must have been sold into slavery. Whatever her crimes, however, one thing is clear: Ching was not a woman to be trifled with. Though not as well-known as Anne Bonny and Mary Read in the Western world, she has appeared as a character in several movies and video games.
Gosse’s pages include a lesser-known female pirate from China: Hon-cho-lo. Also a widow of a pirate, she assumed command of her dead husband’s forces. Commanding sixty ocean-going junks from 1921 to 1922, she also participated in capturing women to sell into slavery. Though we enjoy romanticizing the pirates of the past as much as anyone, it would be a mistake to characterize these women as feminists concerned about the rights of women. It would perhaps be more accurate to say they proved themselves the equal of men in tactical leadership, the application of force, and barbaric cruelty.