Quotes by famous people.
At the height of their power,
infamous Caribbean pirates
like Blackbeard and Henry Morgan
commanded as many as ten ships and several hundred men.
But their stories pale next to the most successful pirate of all time.
Madame Zheng commanded 1800 vessels,
made enemies of several empires,
and still lived to old age.
Madame Zheng began her life as a commoner
working on one of the many floating brothels, or flower boats,
in the port city of Guangzhou.
she had attracted the attention
of a local pirate captain named Zheng Yi,
and the two soon married.
Guangzhou’s fishermen had long engaged in small-scale piracy
to supplement their meager incomes in the offseason.
But a successful peasant uprising in neighboring Vietnam
at the end of the 18th century had raised the stakes.
The victorious Tây Sơn rebels had unified their country
only to face a Chinese invasion
and ongoing maritime battles with the Vietnamese rulers
they had overthrown.
So they commissioned Guangzhou’s pirates to raid the coast
and join the fight against their enemies.
Serving their Vietnamese patrons turned the Zhengs
and other pirates from ragtag gangs aboard single vessels
into professional privateer fleets
with dozens of ships able to hold their own at sea.
In 1802, the Tây Sơn were overthrown
1802年 Tây Sơn被推翻
and the pirates lost their safe harbor in Vietnam.
But instead of scattering,
the Zhengs met the crisis
by uniting the rival Cantonese pirate groups
into a formidable alliance.
At its height, the confederation included 70,000 sailors
with 800 large junks and nearly 1,000 smaller vessels.
Those were organized into six fleets
marked by different colored flags.
The Zhengs were unlike many other historically-known privateers,
such as Henry Morgan or Barbarossa,
who acted on behalf of various naval powers.
Instead, the Zhengs were now true outlaws,
operating without support or approval from any government.
Zheng Yi met an untimely end in 1807,
but his widow didn’t hesitate to secure their gains.
Through skillful diplomacy,
Madame Zheng took charge of the confederation,
convincing the captains that their best interests
lay in continued collaboration.
Meanwhile, she appointed Zhang Bao,
the young protege of her late husband,
as the commander of her most powerful squadron,
the Red Flag Fleet.
Zhang became not only her right-hand man,
but her lover and, soon, her new husband.
Madame Zheng consolidated her power
through strict military discipline
combined with a surprisingly progressive code of laws.
Female captives were theoretically protected from sexual assault,
and while pirates could take them as wives,
mistreatment or infidelity towards them
was punishable by death.
Under Madame Zheng’s leadership,
the pirates greatly increased their power,
with 200 cannons and 1300 guns in the Red Flag Fleet alone.
Within a few years,
they destroyed 63 of Guangdong Province’s 135 military vessels,
forcing their commanders to hire more than 30 private junks.
Madame Zheng was so feared
that Chinese commanders charged with apprehending her
spent most of their time ashore,
sometimes sabotaging their own vessels to avoid battle at sea.
With little to stop them,
the pirates were able to mount successful
—and often brutal— raids on garrisons, villages,
and markets throughout the coast.
Using her administrative talents,
Madame Zheng established financial offices in cities and villages,
allowing her pirates to extract regular protection payments
on land and sea alike.
This effectively created a state within a state
whose influence reached far beyond the South China Sea.
At the peak of her power,
Madame Zheng’s confederation drove five American schooners
to safe harbor near Macao,
captured a Portuguese brig,
and blocked tribumation from Thailnd
—all in a single day.
But perhaps Madame Zheng’s greatest success
lay in knowing when to quit.
increasing tension between the Red and Black Flag Fleets
weakened the confederation from within
and rendered it more vulnerable to attack from without.
So, when the Chinese government, desperate to stop the raids,
offered amnesty in exchange for the pirates’ surrender,
Madame Zheng and Zhang Bao agreed,
but only on their own terms.
Their confederation was successfully and peacefully
dismantled in April 1810,
while Zhang Bao was allowed to
retain 120 junks for personal use
and became an officer in the Chinese navy.
Now fighting pirates himself,
Zhang Bao quickly rose through the ranks of military command,
and Madame Zheng enjoyed all the privileges of her husband’s status.
After Zhang Bao died in 1822,
Madame Zheng returned with their eleven-year-old son to Guangzhou,
where she opened a gambling house
and quietly lived off the proceeds.
She died at the age of 69
—an uncommonly peaceful end to a pirate’s life.
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Quotes by famous people.