Madame Ching, A Woman That Made History

At Schiller International University we couldn’t be more proud of our student body. We know that everyone who has ever been a part of the Schiller family will influence the world around them. One of our current MBA students, Natalia Malvar, had the opportunity to speak about women in history at the “Women in the Army” conference held in Madrid’s own Universidad Complutense.

As a former History major, Natalia was eager to share about a relevant character known mainly in the eastern hemisphere, Madame Ching, who went from being a prostitute to a lead commander of the pirate confederation. This was definitely a story worth sharing! Here is some of what Natalia spoke about.

“Madame Ching was born in 1775 and worked as a prostitute in the Canton brothels until her mid 20’s, when she married a famous pirate (Cheng I or Zheng Yi) in 1801. Cheng I began to reunite different pirate groups after they could no longer serve as corsairs for the Tay-son dynasty of Vietnam, as the Nguyen dynasty took over in 1802.

By that time, China had a policy to end piracy, even though the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty had a very weak navy, clearly outnumbered and out skilled by the pirates. They even had to ask for help to the British and Portuguese on several occasions. Cheng I Sao (the wife of Cheng I; Madame Ching) worked as a partner and an equal with her husband, managing all the administrative aspects of the confederation. They had inland power and collected taxes from the coastal villages of the South China Sea.

At times they were kind, but mostly brutal. They used terror and cruelty to intimidate. After the death of her husband in 1807, Cheng Shih (the widow of Cheng) led the confederation and her fleet to battles and captures, and her crew grew from around 40.000 to 70.000 men. In 1810, seeing that some internal conflicts had started to emerge from within her organization, she led a lobby of females pirates to Canton and negotiated their retirement. She was able to have them receive an amnesty, money to settle down, and the higher ranks of her organization changed their names and joined the Qing army. She died in 1844 at age 69, and owned during her retirement one of the most infamous illegal gambling establishments of China.”

In addition to this, Natalia also talked about their naval strategy and the daily life on the ships. Hope this expanded your curiosity on the subject. History is full of stories like this one, people that marked the destiny of hundreds by their relentless effort to change the world as we know it.