Subject: 海盜 hǎidào pirate
Culture: Cantonese Chinese, Sino-Vietnamese
Setting: south China coast late 18th-mid 19thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Pennell ed. 2001 p255 (Dian Murray, "Cheng I Sao in fact and fiction" p253-282)
"Piracy in China, as in the West, is one of the oldest professions. Records dating back to the fourth century B.C. suggest a continuous tradition of petty piracy: a small-scale, income-supplementing activity that could be practiced out of a neighborhood cove using the equipment at hand. Its size, intensity, and ebb and flow were often determined by external circumstances, and by the political and social events of the world around the sea. The piracy of the most famous woman pirate of all, Cheng I Sao, took place during a rebellion in what is now Vietnam. The leaders' need for a privateer force gave employment to Chinese pirates who answered their call. Later, when Vietnamese patronage was no longer an option, leadership from within the pirate ranks enabled an essentially military organization to be transformed into a big business. This vehicle was a confederation composed of six (and at times seven) well-ordered and regulated fleets consisting of between 40,000 and 70,000 individuals who at their height were under the leadership of Cheng I Sao."
* Pennell ed. 2001 p97-98 (John L Anderson, "Piracy in world history: An economic perspective on maritime predation" p-82-106)
"The next large-scale episode of piracy in Chinese waters followed the cessation of war between factions in northern and southern Vietnam in the late eighteenth century, again a time of famine and civil disturbance in China. Chinese naval mercenaries moved north to their home waters and put their naval, organizational, and strategic skills to use in large-scale and systematic predation for about two decades. Such was the scale of their operations that they were able regularly to engage and defeat fleets of imperial war-junks. The pirates levied tribute in the land areas over which they had some control. In effect, the set up a pirate state, mimicking some aspects of the structure and functioning of the increasingly ineffectual imperial Qing state and adding to the burdens of an already impoverished peasantry.
"Although the power of the pirate 'state' was broken by internal divisions and the official diplomacy that exploited those divisions, there were further regular outbreaks of Chinese piracy during the nineteenth century. These episodes were generally associated with the crises characteristic of a dynasty in decline and the consequent poverty, lawlessness, and weakening of government control both on land and at sea. In addition, the illicit opium trade in the first half of the century was associated with an increase in parasitic piracy."
* Cordingly ed. 1998 p222, 223 (Dian H Murray, "Chinese pirates" p212-135)
"Initially, upon returning to China from Vietnam, Chinese pirates found themselves involved in internecine competition for resources. Within an atmosphere of strife, bands that had once been loosely allied now turned rapaciously against one another in a free-for-all that continued until 1805. At that time the leadership of the pirates had passed indisputably into the waiting hands of ... Cheng Ch'i's distant cousin, Cheng I (Cheng the First). [...]
"The major accomplishment of Cheng I and his wife was the unification of the warring pirate gangs into a formidable confederation that, by 1804, included some four hundred junks and seventy thousand men. In contrast to the ad hoc procedures that gave rise to petty pirate gangs, the confederation came into being as the result of a written agreement (li-ho-yueh) signed by Kwangtung's seven major pirate leaders in 1805. Its goal was to regularize the internal operating procedures of the member units, to prescribe methods of conduct and inter-group communication when at sea, and to stipulate how business transactions with outsiders were to be conducted."
* Pennell ed. 2001 p259 (Dian Murray, "Cheng I Sao in fact and fiction" p253-282)
"By 1808, the pirates held the military initiative along the coast of Kwang-tung and demonstrated their prowess by killing the provincial commander-in-chief of Chekiang, Li Ch'ang-keng, who had sailed into Kwangtung province on a special assignment. Within the year, the pirates had also destroyed 63 of the Kwangtung area's 135-vessel fleet, and in August 1809 they threatened to attack Canton itself. The strength of Cheng I Sao's confederation forced officials in Canton to enter into a series of negotiations with the British for the short-term use of the vessel Mercury, fitted out with twenty cannon and fifty American volunteers. These were followed a few months later by similar negotiations with the Portuguese for the lease of six men-of-war to sail with the imperial navy for several months in late 1809."
* Cordingly ed. 1998 p228 (Dian H Murray, "Chinese pirates" p212-135)
"The pirates' most deadly weapon was a bamboo pike with a sharp, saberlike blade used in the hand-to-hand combat at which they so excelled. The majority of the pikes were fourteen to eighteen feet (4.2 - 5.5m) long and were hurled like javelins. The pirates also had shorter pikes with shafts of wood and slightly curved blades that were sometimes sharpened on both edges. In addition, they wielded knives of all sorts and rounded out their arsenal with bows and arrows."