Zheng Yi
Zheng Wenxian (鄭文顯)

1765 (1765)
DiedNovember 16, 1807(1807-11-16) (aged 41–42)
(m. 1801)
  • Zheng Yingshi (son)
  • Zheng Xiongshi (son)
ParentZheng Lianchang (father)
RelativesZheng San (brother)
Zheng Qi (cousin)
Cheung Po Tsai (adopted son)
Piratical career
NicknameZheng Yi
Other namesZheng Youyi
Zheng Yilang
AllegianceRed Flag Fleet
Years activeLate 1700s – early 1800s
Rankfleet commander
Base of operationsLeizhou Peninsula, South China Sea
CommandsRed Flag Fleet (300 ships of 20,000–40,000 pirates)
Zheng Yi
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese鄭一
Simplified Chinese郑一
Literal meaningZheng the First
Zheng Wenxian
Traditional Chinese鄭文顯
Simplified Chinese郑文显
(courtesy name)
Zheng Yilang
Traditional Chinese鄭一郎
Simplified Chinese郑一郎
Literal meaningZheng's First Son
Vietnamese name
VietnameseTrịnh Nhất

Zheng Yi (also romanised as Cheng Yud or Cheng I ; born Zheng Wenxian, courtesy name Youyi; 1765 – 16 November 1807)[1] was a powerful Chinese pirate operating from Guangdong and throughout the South China Sea in the late 1700s.


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He was born Zheng Wenxian in 1765 in Xin'an County, Guangdong, Qing China. His family, including his father Zheng Lianchang and his younger brother Zheng San had been pirates for generations, he and other pirates were recruited as mercenaries by Tây Sơn dynasty up until 1801. In the year of about 1798, Zheng Yi kidnapped Cheung Po (simplified Chinese: 张保; traditional Chinese: 張保; pinyin: zhāng bǎo), a 15-year-old son of a Tankan fisherman and pressed him into piracy.[2] Cheung Po's natural talent helped him adapt well to his unplanned new career, and he rose swiftly through the ranks.

In 1801, the nefarious intrigues of the 26 year old Cantonese floating brothel madame or prostitute known as Shi Xianggu (Chinese: 石香姑; Jyutping: sek6 hoeng1 gu1), known for her shrewd business savvy and trade in secrets through the pillow talk of her wealthy and political clientele, caught his attention. Either he became infatuated with her or purely as a business move, Zheng Yi made a proposal of marriage to Shi Xianggu to consolidate the powers of intrigue, as it were, which she is said to have agreed to by formal contract granting her a 50% control and share. Shi Xianggu was known as "Zheng Yi Sao" (simplified Chinese: 郑一嫂; traditional Chinese: 鄭一嫂; pinyin: zhèng yī sǎo; lit. 'wife of Zheng Yi'. They adopted Cheung Po as their step-son, making him Zheng's legal heir. She also bore him two sons; Zheng Ying Shi (simplified Chinese: 郑英石; traditional Chinese: 鄭英石; pinyin: zhèng yīng shí) and Zheng Xiong Shi (simplified Chinese: 郑雄石; traditional Chinese: 鄭雄石; pinyin: Zhèng xióng shí).

Zheng Yi used military assertion and his reputation to consolidate a coalition of competing Cantonese pirate fleets of uncertain numbers into an alliance. By 1804, this coalition was a formidable force, and one of the most powerful pirate fleets in all of China. They were known as the Red Flag Fleet.

The pirate coalition besieged Macau for several weeks in 1804. In September 1805, a Chinese attack consisting of 80 gunboats in Guangzhou Bay captured or destroyed only 26 pirate vessels. The general who had led the attack subsequently offered pardons to those who surrendered; perhaps 3000 accepted this offer before it was withdrawn in December 1805.[3]

By 1806, virtually every Chinese vessel along the coast paid the pirates for ostensible protection.[3]


Zheng Yi died suddenly in Nguyễn Vietnam on 16 November 1807, sources varied on whether he died in a typhoon, falling overboard in an accident, or if he was killed by his wife, or his new heir. Soon after his death, his widow Ching Shih (simplified Chinese: 郑氏; traditional Chinese: 鄭氏; pinyin: Zhèng Shì; meaning "widow of Zheng") acted quickly to solidify the partnership with her step-son Cheung Po Tsai. The two soon became intimate. Their first success came when they are able to secure the loyalty of Zheng's relatives. Cheung Po Tsai, would act as Ching Shih's second-in-command of the Red Flag Fleet.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Dian H. Murray 1987, p.64.:Murray, Dian H. (1987). Pirates of the South China Coast, 1790-1810. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1376-6.
  2. ^ URVIJA BANERJI (6 April 2016). "The Chinese Female Pirate Who Commanded 80,000 Outlaws". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b Rogozinski, Jan (1999). Dictionary of Pirates. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. p. 71. ISBN 1-85326-384-2.
  4. ^ "Cheung Po Tsai and Ching Shih, Pirate Monarchs". 22 February 2016.