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Episode 98: Ching Shih, Pirate Queen

station description A Very Serious History Podcast
Half-Arsed History
Duration: 36:01
In this episode of Half-Arsed History, hear the story of Ching Shih, one of the most powerful pirates the world has ever seen, who at her peak led a fleet of hundreds and a crew of tens of thousands.
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In this episode of Half-Arsed History, hear the story of Ching Shih, one of the most powerful pirates the world has ever seen, who at her peak led a fleet of hundreds and a crew of tens of thousands.
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Images: Unknown. View of Canton. Watercolor and gouache on paper. Circa 1800.
Snippet Transcripts
This is the Qing Dynasty at this stage, led by the King Emperor, also known as Young Yang. Uh, that government did move to try to curtail her piracy. But what utterly ineffective, utterly ineffective. The size and the power of King she's fleet outranked, even the Qing dynasties, naval power. It was really, really something. In fact, when they sailed to meet the red flag fleet in battle one time, there was so comprehensively defeated that afterwards the Chinese navy was basically reduced to fishing vessels. She captured or sank so much of the Chinese fleet that actually didn't try again in a hurry. They left her well enough alone for a good deal of time after that. Now, look, you know, there's I guess there's another side of this coin because I don't want a painting. She is, you know, as a lovable rogue, a storybook pirate with a dagger between her teeth and a glint in her eyes, scrapping with the powers that be because look, romanticization of pirate stories is nothing new. And while Ching she's stories, obviously very cool one, it's important to note that this woman did not muck about. There are some stories of King. She's incredible viciousness and the amazing blood says she had as she went around robbing everywhere from Macau to Guangzhou, one of the one of the worst stories of all the pillaging, raping and looting that she did. One of the worst stories emerged from a a small a small fishing village called San Shan, where King she's fleet, raided the village, beheaded all the men and ransomed all the women and Children selling into slavery. Any that weren't paid for. So yeah, Ching Shih ching, she did not muck about. I can I can tell you that much. Um, this brutal style of leadership also extended to how she managed her fleet as well. Shortly after she took charge off this enormous pirate empire King, she issued a code of laws for all of the ships under her command. Now this code of laws was extremely strictly enforced on as you'll see in just a second here. It definitely reinforces the idea that King she, while able to speak softly, carried one of the biggest sticks you'll never come across. Every ship in the red flag fleet had to adhere to this code and the punishments for anyone flouting it. They were harsh on. They were terrible. The code probably had a lot to do with her successes of Pirate Queen. To be honest, as it meant, she expected and enforced unquestioning loyalty from all of her cruise. Most the time on pain of death. Anyway, here it is. Here is the code of laws. The *** she had so vigorously enforced at all levels of her pirate empire. Here we dio anyone who disobeyed orders from their captain or a high ranking commander or anyone who gave unauthorized orders of their own would immediately be beheaded. That was it. Yep. Yep. There were no second chances. Nothing you mess up off with your bloody had made. Sorry about that. But that's just how she goes there. You'll notice that this also applied to senior officers. They were also forbidden to give unauthorized orders. It all had to be with King. She's approval. So any captain that went off and rated or looted or pillaged, or did any, you know, attacked another ship or did anything else like that without the without the permission of King, She Yeah. Just have your head chopped off, mate. Doesn't matter. if you're before or after the master it it doesn't matter what your rank waas you mess with King. She you go against what she says Off comes your head. Simple as that next one or loot is handed over to your captain of your commanding officer, who then handed over to King. She who then put put 80% of it into a public fund for the entire fleet. On the other, 20% goes back to the original crew who captured it in the first place. Pretty bloody stiff tax rate. Their king shield made 80%. And this law to, I mean, was at least a little more lenient than the first. If you stuffed up, you only gotten you only got an extremely severe beating. Although, you know, I should mention that if you stuffed, stuffed up a second time Yeah, betting, as you might have expected, King. She obviously just appreciate a nice, sharp ax. What can I say? But this public fund was a very important part off the, uh you know, the data activity off the red flag fleet. It was It was It was what The whole organization was centered around and As a result, there was obviously a very strict rules that apply to it as well. Stealing from the public fund or from villages that had paid tribute or actively supplying the fleet. You know, they're gonna guess what happened to you. Beheading, you know, just just beheaded straight away again, again ensuring complete loyalty by exploiting just very cleverly exploiting, I might add just how attached people are to their heads. Very clever indeed. Very clever indeed. The public funders I mentioned it was used to, so it was very important. Used to supply ships that hadn't been successful with Ray. It's nice to be nice a bit of good old, good old fashioned socialism in this 18th century pirate empire. But you know, the this organization, this this, this hierarchy, the way that wealth was set up to the, you know, to the to the people in charging she and the rest of it and then redistribute redistribute the other ships who, uh, maybe having a tougher time but are very forward thinking idea. And one that one that also, of course, continue Thio build the power and, uh, and ensure that the Red Fleet stayed on top of its game. Ah, couple more rules to get across here deserting your post or leaving it to go ashore without permission. That wasn't a beheading, Actually, no, you didn't actually get your chopped off your head chopped off for that. Not it wasn't a beheading. It was instead, a bit earing. You got your ears chopped off instead. A Z historian, Jason Porath points out, maybe this was because you weren't using them. Toe listen to the rules, which is quite a good one. I like that you were. You were then paraded around in front of the rest of in front of rest of crew. Who would, you know, presumably laugh at your new lack of years safe in the knowledge, of course that you couldn't hear them. Yeah, all right, look, I know, I know. It's That's not how he is work. I I just I just wanted to make a funny joke like Jason. Alright, that's all I wanted to dio. Also, if you do it again, that is a beheading. I suppose after running out of, you know, ears to chop off, there's nothing. There's nothing left but your entire head. So you desert your post a second time, and it's off with your head. Not just with your not just with some some of the you know appendages on your extremities anyway. Interestingly and unusually for the time is, well, I should say King. She also instituted laws when it came to the treatment of female captives. Now, usually female captives were just released, but those that were kept as prisoners had a level of protection. Thanks to King, she's leadership. I mean, look, we're not talking about, you know, United Nations level basic principles for treat for the treatment of prisoners here. But still, it was something particularly attractive. Prisoners were usually taken his wives or concubines by crew members, but under under *** cheese leadership, these men now had to remain faithful to their new wives again on pain of death and ones that didn't end up with a new pirate husband, where, as I say, they were released, all they were ransomed on if in the meantime, before they were released or ransom, if in the meantime, a crew member were to become, uh, intimate with one of these prisoners and under any circumstances whatsoever, guess what? Oh, yes, that's right. hippity hoppity Time for the chippy chopper T. Uh, in some cases, the prisoners were also executed for being part of this. Although King, she didn't chop off their heads. Uh, instead, thes poor women had cannonballs tied to their feet on were thrown overboard much better. Yes. Um, there were mawr. Other, more minor laws that were enforced is part of King. She's codas. Well, and breaches of these more minor things were met with, you know, more minor punishments. You know, things like being clapped in irons, being flogged or something small, like having your feet nailed to the deck, that sort of thing. Essentially, Ching, she ran a very tight ship. Thank you, Andi. And with and without a doubt. So about that, Without a doubt, this'll obviously contribute to the rabid loyalty of those under her command. A firsthand account of this code comes to us from a man named Richard Glass Pool who, in 18 09 while working for the East India company, was actually taken prisoner by King. She's fleet and saw with his own eyes the you know, the customs and the traditions and laws off the red flag fleet on he survived. He survived this ordeal, and he wrote a book about it and said that it was this code of laws that gave rise to a force, that it was intrepid in attack, desperate in defense and unyielding even when out now.
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