Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. So be prepared for your English teacher and other random people to say meaningless things, like “argghhh me hearties”.
Pirates are robbers who steal ships and all their cargo. We have a very European view of what a pirate should look like because that’s where we get a lot of our pirate stories. But, in fact, there are pirates all over the world and so they look very different.
Long ago, there used to be pirates in the South China Sea, near Hong Kong. The most famous of them, and in fact the most successful pirate ever, was a woman. Her name was Ching Shih and she ran the “Red Fleet” of more than 300 junks and thousands of men. She terrorised the seas around Hong Kong in the early 19th century. That got her into fights with the Chinese navy – under the Qing dynasty – the English navy and the Portuguese navy.
Madame Ching was born in Guangdong in 1775, and no one knows her real name. She was kidnapped by pirates and in 1801 she married the most famous of all, Cheng I. He was such a fearsome pirate that the Chinese emperor gave him the title “Golden Dragon of the Imperial Staff”. He died in Vietnam in 1807, and so his wife plotted to take over his fleet.
After Cheng’s death, the Red Flags scattered, probably thinking that their best pirating days were over. But she called them back. “Under the leadership of a man,” she told them, “you have all chosen to flee. We shall see how you prove yourself under the leadership of a woman.”
Ching married a Vietnamese man named Cheung Po Tsai, who had been captured by her husband. He had been adopted by Cheng as his son, and since he had been a pirate for years, he could hardly read or write. But he could get men to follow him, and that was what Ching Shih wanted.
Once she had the power she set about laying down the law, literally. Ching wrote a set of rules for the pirates to follow and would harshly punish or put to death those who disobeyed.
The government at that time tried very hard to capture Madame Ching, coming up with all sorts of plots and plans. But she decided to surrender on her own terms. She got a lot of money from the government, which pardoned her. She also forced the government to make her husband an officer in the navy.
Cheung was a top pirate in his own right. One of the places he would use to hide from enemies was on Cheung Chau island – Cheung Po Tsai Cave. Of course it doesn’t hold any treasure these days, but it’s still worth seeing. The old stories say that Cheung hid treasure on the island, and it hasn’t been found yet.
Cheung also built some temples to the goddess Tin Hau in Hong Kong, who must have blessed him considering the life he had. But who knows if we will ever find the treasure. After all, as every pirate knows, dead men tell no tales – in pirate talk, that means dead men can’t reveal any secrets!