Chen I Sao, Female Pirate Extraordinaire

by: Ellen C. Caldwell
for JSTOR Daily

One of most successful and least famous pirates of all time was Cheng I Sao, the female pirate (yes, women were pirates too!) who dominated the coast of the Kwangtung Province for fifteen years between 1795-1810.

In “One Woman’s Rise to Power: Cheng I’s Wife and the Pirates,” Dian Murray writes about Cheng I Sao, also known more simply as “Cheng I’s Wife” and her rise to power. Murray provides a vivid account of Cheng I’s wife and the calculated steps she took to dominate the Chinese coast—both on sea and land in some coastal towns. During her rise to fame, Cheng I Sao’s team of pirates dwarfed the Spanish Armada with “approximately 70,000 pirates aboard 1,200 vessels.”

Murray notes that much of her success was not in spite of her gender, but because of it. Cheng I Sao started her career as a pirate after leaving her earlier job as a prostitute to marry and join her husband at sea. Together, they organized pirate gangs and became powerful leaders. Murray notes that “their major achievement was the unification of small gangs into a formidable confederation that by 1804 included 400 junks and 70,000 men.” In 1807, when Cheng I died suddenly, Chang I Sao made a power move to take over…

Read the rest here at JSTOR Daily.

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