Ching Shih (1775–1844) was a prominent pirate in middle Qing China, who terrorized the China Sea in the early 19th century. She commanded over 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates another estimate has Cheng’s fleet at 1800 and crew at about 80,000— men, women, and even children.
She challenged the empires of the time, such as the British, Portuguese and the Qing dynasty. Undefeated, she would become one of China and Asia’s strongest pirates, and one of world history’s most powerful pirates. She was also one of the few pirate captains to retire from piracy.
Ching Shih issued a code of laws. The code was very strict and according to Richard Glasspoole, strictly enforced.
First, anyone giving their own orders (ones that did not come down from Ching Shih) or disobeying those of a superior were beheaded on the spot. Second, no one was to steal from the public fund or any villagers that supplied the pirates.
Third, all goods taken as booty had to be presented for group inspection. The booty was registered by a purser and then distributed by the fleet leader. The original seizer received twenty percent and the rest was placed into the public fund. Fourth, actual money was turned over to the squadron leader, who only gave a small amount back to the seizer, so the rest could be used to purchase supplies for unsuccessful ships.
The punishment for a first-time offense of withholding booty was severe whipping of the back. Large amounts of withheld treasure or subsequent offenses carried the death penalty.
Ching Shih’s code had special rules for female captives. Standard practice was to release women, but J.L. Turner witnessed differently. Usually the pirates made their most beautiful captives their concubines or wives. If a pirate took a wife he had to be faithful to her. The ugliest were released and any remaining were ransomed. Pirates that raped female captives were put to death, but if it was consensual sex, the pirate was decapitated and the woman thrown overboard with leg weights.
Violations of other parts of the code were punished with flogging, clapping in irons, or quartering. Deserters or those that went AWOL had their ears chopped off, and then were paraded around their squadron. Glasspoole concluded that the code “gave rise to a force that was intrepid in attack, desperate in defense, and unyielding even when outnumbered.”