Badass Women31 August 2020
Have you ever seen Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End? During the pirate council, there’s an older Chinese lady who dominates the room with her piercing gaze. Well, in this case, she isn’t just the token PoC woman added in as an afterthought – in actual fact, she’s a cardholding badass character based off of our next badass lady – Ching Shih! If you google Shih’s name, she’s known as the “prostitute turned pirate” (amazing), who “terrorised the seas” (YAAS queen) and commanded “50,000 to 70,000 pirates” (we stan). Living in 18th-century China, Shih demanded respect and booty (the pirate kind) in a time when women were there to be seen, not heard. How, then, did such a lady, who supposedly came from nothing, rise to such great heights?
She loved the soft rocking of the ship. The tang of sea salt. The shouting of her men above board, softening by the hour. The drunken feeling of swaying back and forth once she was back upon land. It was the ultimate deterrent from ever going back.
She was tied to her everlasting love for the sea.
But now… everything could be taken away.
Shih stared, unable to tear her eyes away from the letter she had carelessly opened from her husband’s top lieutenant. The letter detailed her husband’s death in a tragic accident, an attack turned natural-disaster-escape where his ship had sunk under a tidal wave, leaving no survivors – or witnesses.
Suspicion already clouded her judgement, tearing holes through her shroud of grief. Cheng, her husband, always sailed with his trusted companions at his side, and his Lieutenant should be fish food right now. He’d always expected the Empire once her husband inevitably fell and had perhaps become sick of waiting. She knew though that she’d never find out the truth of what transpired. But that was no matter.
Her ship creaked in the cloudy moonlight, the oil lamp swinging back and forth with the waves that lapped the vessel, the wails of her crew filling the night air. It was all a show, put on for her so that she would believe they were saddened by Cheng’s death. But they didn’t care. Their loyalty was to her, and her only.
Shih had worked hard to prove her own loyalty to the men and women who worked on the ship and throughout her fleet. The well-placed bribes and booty helped as did teaching the young women how to fight not only with tooth and nail, but with their wits and womanly charms. They were the sirens of the sea, deadly and irresistible in the eyes of men. And it was all thanks to Shih.
Her husband had been king of the empire they had built. But to say that Shih had been queen was an understatement – the phrase made it seem as if he had called all the shots while she merely sat idly by. She was as much of a king as he had been, co-ruling in a way never seen before on any of the seven seas.
In the days before Shih had been by her husband’s side on their ships, she had worked in the brothel to make a living. The business side of things in the brothel had always fascinated her; she loved the quick calculation of fees for each service, and she was always aware that beauty paid a higher price than mere common looks. But she also knew that just as her understanding had benefitted her in the brothel, it had also given her an advantage over her fellow ladies working the long hours taking care of sailors. Cheng had understood the way her mind worked during the hours they’d spent secluded together, when he had her by his side.
Yes, everything she had worked so hard for could be taken away, even though she deserved it. But would she let it?
The light silk of Shih’s dress brushed against her ankles as she stormed out of the captain’s Quarters, the deep purple blending into the rich, velvety night sky above. Shih raised a hand, and in a second the crew was silenced, awaiting her command.
“It’s time.” Her voice rang out across the vessel, the signal her crew had been awaiting since she’d announced her husband’s death.
In a moment the ship was ablaze with movement and noise, her own Lieutenants shouting commands while others ran to prepare the vessel for travel. In an instant they were flying towards the flurry of light in the distance – the home of the Red Flag Fleet, where mayhem was now breaking out in the absence of a leader.
Shih glided across the deck, the world speeding up around her. Everything moved in a haze, as she focused on the city ahead, the new centre of her power.
Men would try to take over her empire, and they would all fail tremendously, for Shih would not crumble. She had no intention of relinquishing this power she held so firmly in the palm of her hand.