It may seem hard to believe, but one of the most powerful matriarchs in all of history was a prostitute before she rose to power! Ching Shih was born in China in 1775, and after her life as a prostitute, came to power of the Red Flag Fleet, one of the most powerful pirate fleets in all the world at the time.
Lady Ching started her early life as many women of the time did – she got married, and the man she married happened to be the brave leader of the Red Flag Fleet. When Lady Ching’s husband suddenly passed away, she came to fulfill his position of the leader of the Red Flag Fleet, putting her in charge of over 70,000 fearsome pirates. It is said that after the passing of her husband, Lady Ching gathered the men of the Red Flag Fleet to announce “Under the leadership of a man you have all chosen to flee. We shall see how you prove yourselves under the hand of a woman.” She then took control of the fleet, and became the leader they needed.
Quiet and thoughtful, Lady Ching was unlike her husband as a leader in every way. Her pensiveness as a leader did not diminish her power in anyway. After coming to lead the Red Flag Fleet, Ching Shih remarried, this time taking her late husband’s right hand man as her partner. After marrying, the new husband, known as Chang Pao, was appointed as the captain of the fleet by his wife. It is said that Chang Pao was uneducated and illiterate, unlike Lady Ching, and thus very easy to manipulate on her part, making him the perfect candidate to be put in charge.
Although Chang Pao was seen as the leader of the fleet, he was consistently guided by the mind of Lady Ching, who installed many strict policies for every ship in the fleet to follow. The policies were often unforgiving and gruesome, including provisions which state that any attacks made without Lady Ching’s approval would result in beheadings, all loot must be distributed by the leaders of the fleet, and if a female captive was raped, her assailant faced decapitation.
Ching Shih’s powerful leadership made the Red Flag Fleet unrelenting and unstoppable. No other fleet in the world could compete with the men under the power of a woman. The sheer power of the fleet grabbed the attention of the Chinese and Portuguese governments, who then joined forces in an attempt to stop the pirates and dismantle the fleet. The Chinese government released what were known as “suicide boats” to destroy the pirate ships; these suicide boats were loaded with explosives which were intended to explode near enough to the Red Flag ships so that they would be damaged beyond repair. The plan failed, and with quick work the members of the fleet were able to take control of the damaged suicide ships, and after some repairs, the ships were taken in under the Red Flag.
After consistent attempts from the government to destroy the Red Flag Fleet, Lady Ching got tired of her pirate endeavors, and retired to avoid more trouble. The government cancelled all warrants for her arrest, and she spent the rest of her life running a brothel and a gambling den, becoming extremely wealthy before her death in 1844 at the age of 69 years old. Eventually, with the help of Chang Pao, the government did eliminate the Red Flag Fleet, leaving Ching Shih’s old empire in ruins.