One of the most prominent pirates in history was a woman named Ching Shih. After the death of her husband, she became the head of 50 000 pirates; her name alone was enough to make the most experienced of ship captains shudder.
Ching Shih was born a regular village girl, and, like most of the village women in the early 19th century, earned a living as a prostitute. However, her life would change completely when she met her future husband Cheng I.
The future pirate woman grew up in southeast China and worked on a floating brothel. It was there that she met the pirate Cheng I, who fell in love with her and the 2 eventually married.
Ching Shih wanted an equal share with the other men when it came to the ship's duties. Over time, she also began to participate in the organizational work of the pirate activities.
When they wed, the pirate couple commandeered a fleet of 200 ships. After Ching Shih took complete control, the number of ships under her command grew to 1800.
It was only a year after their wedding that Cheng I died in battle, with the entire fleet falling into the hands of his wife. Ching Shih found herself leading 50 000 pirates and had no intention of failing.
She prepared a strict set of rules for her crews and was uncompromising when it came to their enforcement. One of these stated that as soon as they seized a ship, the booty would have to be registered and then equally distributed among the rest of the pirates.
The ship the attacked first would receive a 20% share of the booty and the rest would be distributed. If a pirate was found concealing any captured valuables from his mates, they would be flogged and in some cases beheaded.
The Chinese pirate queen also demanded that her subordinates be faithful to their wives - they were allowed to wed but any adultery was punishable by death.
The Chinese government proved to be unable to deal with Ching Shih's attacks, to the point where the emperor was forced to sign a truce with her. He asked that she end her plundering and in exchange promised to let her keep all of her wealth without prosecution.
Ching Shih accepted the offer and returned to her native Guangdong. She married one of her crew members and they opened and operated a gambling house until her death in 1844.