So, reading a book I picked up yesterday, I learned of the greatest pirate who ever lived: Shi Xianggu.|
Shi Xianggu was born in poverty, and became a prostitute, and remained one until she, among others, was captured by pirates. Their leader, Zheng Yi, decided to celebrate his fleet's success by taking a wife, and the twenty most beautiful prostitutes they had captured were brought to him.
Shi Xianggu was apparently the standout beauty among them; he chose her. As he was loosening her bonds, she attacked him, spitting and scratching.
Zheng Yi apparently liked his women spirited; he offered her great riches to be his bride.
Shi Xianggu did not lack spirit; she demanded equal command of his fleets and half his piratical plunder.
Zheng Yi agreed.
Together, they expanded their fleet and their power, more-or-less taking control of the extremely busy shipping lanes, repeatedly kicking the sterns of the Imperial navy, including when the Imperial Navy requested European assistance as well.
Their relationship appears not to have suffered when Zheng Yi kidnapped the fifteen-year-old son of a fisherman to be his "adopted son" and lover; indeed, after Zheng Yi died (blown overboard in a gale), the young man, Zhang Bao, became Shi Xianggu's second-in-command, and later second husband.
Because, after Zheng Yi's death, Shi Xianggu took sole command of the fleet, including almost 80,000 pirates.
Their dominance of the seas was not broken by the Imperial Navy. Their fleet had actually become six fleets, and one of the commanders of the lesser fleets got a bit too big for his boots, and attacked Zhang Bao. Zhang Bao won a tactical victory, but the rebel fleet commander then turned himself and his men in to the authorities, in exchange for pardons. He even took a commission in the Imperial Navy.
Maintaining the tactical astuteness which was one of her strengths, Shi Xianggu recognised that the tide was turning against piracy, and also made peace with the authorities. Of her tens of thousands of pirates, less than 400 were actually punished, and many also joined the Imperial Navy.
She herself retired, aged 25, and thereafter ran a brothel, gambling house, and possibly smuggling ring. She died aged 59, a ripe old age for the early 19th century.
I have summarised extensively, obviously, but seriously, this woman is impressive as all hell. One of the few surviving portraits of her apparently depicts her sabre in hand on a tilting deck fighting shoulder to shoulder with her men.
I was briefly troubled that I'd never heard of her - was it a misogynistic or racist bias in my learnings? She was Chinese and a woman, after all.
And then I realised that it's more that I've not studied the history of piracy at all, because I tried to think who I had thought was the greatest pirate who ever lived, and then I realised that the only pirates whose names I could think of offhand were Long John Silver and Jack Sparrow, one of whom is fictional and the other of whom technically existed but I don't know anything about his actual real life, only his Treasure Island version, and primarily his Muppet Treasure Island version. Since I'm guessing he was not actually played by Tim Curry in reality, I think what this has shown is that I know amazingly little about actual piracy.
Ways in which piracy affected events on land? Yes, actually. Piracy itself? Apparently not.
Still, now I know and so do you. The greatest pirate who ever lived was Shi Xianggu.