Shi Zianggu

Real Female Pirates, Part 1

It bothers me when I hear people discredit movies and books because “women can’t really do that.” The phrase is usually in reference to women having impressive fighting skills, whether it be May in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Celaena in Throne of Glass. And the simple truth is, yes, women can. Women can throw men twice their size over their shoulders, they can be assassins, and they can be pirates. In fact, they were, and this is the first post dedicated to real female pirates.


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It might come as a shock to many to learn that the most successful pirate of all time was, in fact, a woman. In many senses, she was even a real pirate princess. Her name was Shi Xianggu or Ching Shih, and she was active in the early 19th century.

Shi was a Cantonese prostitute who was captured by pirates and ended up marrying one of them, a very successful pirate captain. When he died, she took control of all his ships and men. Yes, you might say she inherited them, but only a skilled pirate captain could maintain control over so many. And the pirates were more successful under her command. Shi expanded her fleet to around 80,000 men. The men learned quickly to follow orders because Shi had very strict rules and consequences (Wikipedia).

You don’t attack anyone without getting the okay from Shi first. You don’t have sex, consensual or not, without permission. Don’t desert. Anything you plunder goes to your captain for distribution. Etc. (Today I found Out).

Failure to obey usually resulted in beheading. The “no sex” seems strange. Why would it be a big deal if it was consensual? It’s understandable that Shi, being a woman, wouldn’t allow the female prisoners to be raped. But Shi was also a prostitute, and she knew the behaviors of men. And so she would force them to be celibate for weeks or months on end. That way, when it was time to plunder, the men would have extra, pent up energy and be more effective.

Many governments tried to stop her, including those of Portugal and Britain, but they couldn’t. Shi was brilliant, and she outsmarted all the strategies used against her (Ancient Origins).

Shi ended up retiring after negotiating a pardon for her and her men. She got to keep all her loot, and she died an old woman at the age of 69 (About Education).

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