Short comic about the life of a female pirate


21 Responses to “Short comic about the life of a female pirate”

  1. Pedantic Douchebag says:

    one of the most successful pirates of all time 

    I’ll go ahead and say the most successful, when you look at pure numbers, and her eventual endgame.

    • Tynam says:

      Seconded, no question.  It’s the endgame that counts.  Many pirates were ‘successful’ in stealing large amounts, then died without ever really getting any benefit from it.  Ching Shih died of old age, a rich grandmother, having effectively retired in her 30s, and made it stick with her government.

  2. siliconsunset says:

    Pirates are scum. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist and all that. I think it’s cool because she was a woman in a male-dominated industry, but I’m still WTFing over ”
    To add to her badassery, after her husband died she married her adopted step son!” I guess they would be high-fiving Woody Allen as well…

  3. jtnix says:

    not sure about the ‘most stories about Asian women’ yada-yada comment, as I’ve only read one that I can recall, Tokaido Road by Lucia St. Clair Robson, which was all about the Girl Power in Feudal Japan, and damn well written to boot.

    • Susan Carley Oliver says:

      Madame Butterfly. Flower Drum Song.

      Unfortunately, these are the most popularly saturated cultural images of Asian women, Tokaido Road notwithstanding.

  4. Nadreck says:

    Matsu, currently working as a Sea Goddess, was possibly a pirate empress as well: you used to *really* have to make offerings to her to ensure the safety of your cargo. 

    But for sheer female badassery no one comes within light-years of Wu Zeitan – The Empress Wu.  As either the power (literally) behind the throne or sitting openly on the throne (the only female in the history of China to do so) she ran most of the civilised world with an iron fist for most of a very long life.  A typical 2 O’Clock meeting for her would be to be supervising the forging of some 2-tonne bronze bells for a Buddhist temple while off-handedly signing off on an expedition of a few hundred thousand soldiers to wallop  this season’s invading barbarian hordes.

  5. John Napsterista says:

    Amazing story and she was undoubtedly badass, no doubt about that.  But: 

    “rose from prostitution to became one of the most successful pirates of all time”

    Is going from sale of sex to large scale murder, blackmail, extortion and robbery really “rising?” 

    Violence > Sexuality?  Really?  You can do better, boing boing.

    • Ab Eeyore says:

      Your idea of piracy is deeply flawed.  Sailors in those days were not men who voluntarily signed up for life at sea.   Most sailors were unwilling conscripts, or at worst, petty criminals sentenced to labor at sea.  Most pirates were not murderers and scoundrels looking for a free ride, they were men seeking to escape involuntary service and more than occasionally abuse and torture by their officers.  Then (as now) most pirates only became pirates because there was no other path open to them.  While notable exceptions do exist, most were given a choice death, crushing poverty, back breaking labor or piracy – and chose piracy.  I’m not sure I would choose any differently.

      • John Napsterista says:

         Most sailors were unwilling conscripts, or at worst, petty criminals sentenced to labor at sea.

        Precisely why slaughtering them by the shipload, as pirates are wont to do, isn’t exactly “rising up” from fucking someone for money. 

    • Sekino says:

      Considering what the living conditions and life expectancy in an 1800′s brothel must have been (probably sold at a young age, abuse, STD’s, abortions, degradation, etc…), I think that accessing to such a level of power and comfort is definitely an improvement from her point of view. She decided to grab something for herself out of a male-dominated world of hardship and violence instead of being exploited by it.

      I imagine opportunities for someone in her position were extremely scarce. People aren’t celebrating violence in itself, they celebrate the spirit of a woman who saw an opportunity and made herself some serious lemonade out of the bitter world she was living in.

      • John Napsterista says:

        I think that accessing to such a level of power and comfort is definitely an improvement from her point of view.
        What about from the point of view of the hundreds or thousands of poor, conscripted saps who died at her behest?  I’m not at all doubting that she’s a badass, and her story is an amazing one.  But we’ve got to question a worldview which blindly exalts power and wealth, obtained at any cost, as being a noble goal (i.e., “rising up” from prostitution to a position as mass-murdering high seas robber baron).  In other words, Jamie Dimon is a piece of shit, and would be no less a piece of shit (though a far more interesting one, perhaps even a badass one) if he had  spent his early years as a street hustler.

        • Sekino says:

          I live in 2000′s North America. I don’t understand why you are comparing the values and opportunities of OUR time and place with those of centuries ago.

          When comparing the values and mindset of humans across centuries, there are great difference and there is an evolution. That the evolution DOES happen (albeit slowly) is a great and necessary thing, but I don’t think it means we shouldn’t give credit to what people of the past did achieve based on their circumstances at the time (and place).

          Then again, you can just as easily deplore and condemn any human being who wasn’t Gandhi if that’s the way you choose to look at it.

          • John Napsterista says:

             I don’t understand why you are comparing the values and opportunities of OUR time and place with those of centuries ago.

            It’s not criticism of the morals of another era; it’s criticism of copy written in the 21st century, that explicitly characterizes being a sex worker as worse than being a greedy, mass-murdering sociopath.  In the same way Xeni (correctly) called out the NYT for writing “men invented the Internet” when it should’ve been “men are credited with inventing the Internet,” this should read, perhaps, “transformed from prostitute to pirate.”   The current wording is unacceptably insulting to sex workers and holds out avarice and mass murder as worthy achievement.  Pretty much the opposite of whuffie, no?  

            That said, Cheng I Sao is certainly an amazing, powerful, compelling character.  I look forward to reading the comic, and I suspect I’ll find her depiction charismatic.  But it’s charisma the same way Tony Soprano is charismatic –they’re both sociopaths, but likeable, even perversely principled ones.  Life can be like that.

  6. Natalie Kim says:

    Thanks for all of your comments.  I really enjoyed hearing all of reactions and your perspective on Ching Shih.   You are all absolutely right in that marrying her step son is gross/anti-social not exactly something to be celebrated.  Whether it’s by ancient or modern convention it is kind of disturbing.

    That said, sadly, there are SO few stories of women in Asian history (that I am aware of) where a woman actually leads and thrives to their old age.  So when I saw Maggie’s story on CNN, I was so struck by it.  And when I share her story with other women, they are also really intrigued by it.  I would love to be corrected and learn more stories.

    She is not perfect and is definitely flawed, but you also remember the context of the time period it was and what options most women had at that time. 

    Thanks also for talking about Tokaido Road by Lucia St. Clair Robson.  I’m definitely going to check it out.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      You are all absolutely right in that marrying her step son is gross/anti-social not exactly something to be celebrated.

      Except that he was 18 when she married his father and there’s nothing gross or anti-social about it.

  7. NelC says:

    I wrote up Cheng Shih as a character for an RPG supplement a few years ago, and I had a similar reaction to you, Maggie: what a badass! Not sure that I really like her… no, actually, I think I do: growing up in a floating shanty town, getting employment at a brothel may well have been a step up. Marrying one of her clients and getting out of the boat-town and the brothel, a step-up. He’s a pirate, true, but also a veteran of a Vietnamese civil war, losing his Admiralty post in a coup, so he probably didn’t have a lot of job options open to him, either. Was he going to get a job in the Chinese bureaucracy? Go back to fishing?

    She’s not just a pretty face, not just a concubine, but a full partner and a pirate in her own right. When her husband is swept overboard, their adopted son is in line to take over, but he’s too young, so she marries him, and he gets to do all the dashing stuff, and she does the actual management, including formulating the laws of the pirate federation — which includes capital punishment for pirates raping female prisoners.

    The Chinese navy is useless, like the government of the time. The European powers are just winding up to knock over the ancient empire, and they can’t allow an independent navy in the South China Sea. Besides, their merchants hate having to pay protection money. So they trap Cheng Shih’s fleet in a bay with their Napoleonic-era frigates and ships-of-the-line and try to destroy her with bombardment and fireships, but the weather’s against them, and she breaks through their blockade.

    And then, realising that the gig’s up and the Europeans are going to get her eventually, she gets a bunch of pirate wives and their children together, and strolls up to the local governor’s palace to parlay. She gets a pardon and her husband gets a job in the navy, and so do all the pirates that want it. She settles down to run a gambling parlour, and gets to tell her grandkids about life as a pirate queen.

    Two hundred years later her character gets a walk-on in some western pirate movie, but hardly anyone knows who she is — not even in her own country.

    Yes, she was a pirate, and did some unsavoury things, but it was better than dying of syphilis in a brothel and being tipped into the water.

  8. Jim Kelly says:

    I’m surprised nobody’s made any “Terry and the Pirates” / Dragon Lady references. Asian female crime bosses aren’t unknown in Western pop culture… exotic beauty juxtaposed with danger fits the pulp template well.

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