This article focuses on piracy along the southern Chinese coast. It first introduces readers to the lives of Chinese adventurer Zheng Zhilong (1604-1661) and his son Zheng Chenggong (1624-1662), better known as Koxinga (‘Lord of the Imperial Surname’). Zheng Chenggong was a Ming loyalist who fought the Dutch to take Taiwan as a base for his campaign against the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty. The second part of the article turns to the narratives of J. Turner, chief mate of the English country ship Tay and Richard Glasspoole of the Ship Marquis of Ely who were captured by Ladrones (‘the Portuguese name given to the fishing, thieving, and piratical Chinese who inhabit the coasts, and the islands in the vicinity of Macao’) in the early nineteenth century.
The private sea-robber is universally regarded as the common enemy of mankind, his life is detested and is death unlamented. There are forcible and peculiar reasons for this unanimous consent of civilized men, which constitutes the pirate an utter outlaw. For he takes his stand upon the only highway between the continents and nations of the world, there to appropriate to himself the property of peaceable men, at the peril and often at the expense of their lives. Thus, for his own selfish purposes, he makes this only communication between the parts of the human family, which the Father of all designed for mutual friendship and profit, a scene of danger and bloodshed. Nor does an occasional and capricious show of generosity on the part of the freebooter avail to reclaim his name from the general execration. So revolting is the thought of a violent death or robbery on the remote waters of the ocean, that he reasonably becomes the dread of the unarmed merchantman. Nor to him only; for the suspense of those who remain secure at home, and wait in vain for the long delayed return of beloved friends, is so painful, that no wonder the memory of the marauder of the sea is detested. The helpless case of the devoted ship and crew when once in his reach, conspires with the absence of all other human witnesses, to justify summary, signal punishment on the once detected pirate. In the city of Canton last August, twenty-three persons were beheaded in one day for this crime, and such executions are not unfrequent here. From the belief that it will illustrate the condition of the Chinese navy, and the state of the empire, we will attempt a sketch of two or three remarkable periods in the history of Chinese freebooters.
From time immemorial, the southern Chinese coast has been infamous for the robberies on its waters. But beyond and across the China Sea, the inhabitants of the Sooloo and other islands in the southeast are the most notorious pirates; and under the name of Sooloos claim the waters of the Philippines as their proper field for plunder. On the southwest, the Malays seem to be the chief, and extend their depredations from Java, Sumatra, and Malacca up as far as Cochinchina. No ship is secure from their attacks at the present day, without carrying and displaying guns; nor even then if she unfortunately gets aground or becalmed. The southern Chinese coast is so well suited to the reception and protection of pirates, that it is not surprising the adjacent seas have never been clear of them. The innumerable islands, and the numerous outlets and inlets, which really make a large portion of land near the sea insular, the intricate passages, hidden harbors, and numerous shoals, altogether make the extirpation of these pirates a work of no ordinary difficulty for any government. The extreme poverty of the lower classes of people, and their habits of aquatic life favor the increase of such gangs, while the weakness and venalty of the imperial navy render easy their escape from deserved punishment.
The first foreign traders came to China in 1517. They anchored their ships at Sanshan, about fifty miles southwest of Macao; but while the commander was engaged in traffic at Canton, his ships at Sanshan were attacked by pirates, and he was obliged to return and defend them. Several years subsequent to this, the Portuguese were allowed to commence their settlement at Macao; and if we may credit their accounts, which some dispute, the occasion of the extraordinary permission was as follows. Under a celebrated leader, the pirates had become unusually annoying to the Chinese, and even threatened the provincial city, while Macao and its vicinity afforded easy shelter to the marauders. The Chinese officers therefore offered the Portuguese the privilege of founding an establishment on the island, upon the condition of their destroying the pirates. This the Portuguese undertook and accomplished, and were accordingly allowed to build upon the island where they had slain the piratical chief.
From this event we pass down to the time of the Mantchou conquest. During that turbulent period, a succession of piratical and naval chiefs arose and gained a temporary importance, which places their names in the history of the empire. Like the Bucaneers of America, these chiefs were partly patriotic and wholly piratical. Ching Chelung has already been mentioned in former pages of the Repository; but his remarkable career deserves a fuller notice. He rose to importance about 1640, and for near ten years acted a distinguished part in the maritime operations of the Chinese during the Tartar conquest. According to Du Halde and others, he was a native of the province of Fuhkeën, born of obscure parents. In early life he was in the service of the Portuguese at Macao, where he was baptized into the Christian religion by the name of Nicholas Gaspard. Subsequently he was employed by the Dutch at Formosa, where he was known to foreigners by the name of Kwan. Thence he repaired to Japan, where he entered the service of a wealthy merchant, as commander of his trading vessels to Cochinchina, &c.; but hearing of his employer’s death, he applied to his own use the property in his hands, and purchased armed vessels. ‘After this,’ says the historian, ‘he became a pyrat; but being of quick and nimble wit, he grew from this small and slender fortune to such a height of power, as he was held either superior or equal to the emperor.’ In alliance with another commander, he plundered all ships which came in his way. The emperor unable to reduce these chiefs by force, attempted it by stratagem. He wrote a letter to each separately, but at the same time, expressing his high sense of the services which each might render to their country, and inviting each to subdue the other, promising him as recompense the office of commander of the coasts, and high admiral of the sea. Ching Chelung instantly attacked his fellow pirate, vanquished and killed him, and took many of his fleet and crews into is own service. Then he went to meet the imperial fleet, which not daring to attach him, were glad to congratulate him on his success. Protected by the emperor’s letter which clothed hi with the office of admiral of the sea, he commenced his functions indeed, and for once the emperor’s stratagem overdid the business. For the pirate, now no longer a pirate, had the trade to India in his hand. He dealt with the Portuguese at Macao; with the Spanish at manila; with the Dutch on Formosa; with the Japanese, and with kings and princes of these eastern countries. He permitted none but himself or his creatures to enter on this lucrative trade. All the trading vessels of the empire he required to obtain a pass from him, for which he exacted enormous sums, and by means of which he stopped the mouths of complainants at Peking. ‘On one occasion he went ashore at Canton, where the imperial officers had withheld a part of his revenue as admiral; entered their populous city with only 6000 of his men; erected a tribunal, and having summoned those officers into his presence, compelled them to pay instantly the sum required; he then gave them receipts, and retired to his fleet without any obstruction.’
Ching Chelung’s Son, Ching Chung-kung
The general history of China by P. Mailla varies a little from this account, and is much more full respecting the life of this celebrated chief. According to Mailla, Ching Chelung belonged to the district of Tseuenchow (Chinchew) in Fuhkeën. His father was one of the guards of the royal treasury in Tseuenchow, an employment scarcely affording the necessaries of life for himself and his family. The son, Ching Chelung, (whom for convenience we will call by his surname Ching,) was early distinguished for beauty of person, vivacity of manners, and promptness in acting. When Ching was of age to embark in the world, himself and his brother joined the pirate Yen Chin, who then possessed an island, and from thence plundered the passing merchant vessels; with him they passed many years in this hopeful apprenticeship, and during this period, he may have been at Macao and Japan engaged in trade. On the death of Yen Chin, the pirates assembled to choose another chief, and twice the lot fell on Ching. He therefore received the command, and became the terror of the seas. The prizes which he took enabled him to equip a fleet at his own expense, to bid defiance to the imperial ships, and gave him the command of the sea coasts of Kwangtung, Fuhkeën, and Chekeang.
Tsungching the last emperor of the Ming dynasty sent against him the governor of Fuhkeën. He took the opposite course from his predecessors. He made advances to the pirate chief, and sought his friendship; he permitted supplies to be furnished for his fleet; and Ching in return, with equal generosity, exempted the coast of Fuhkeën from plunder. The governor having thus gained his confidence, and learned his ambition, in a private letter to him, praised his spirit, his valor, and experience, and declared that such talents would entitle him to a place of more renown in the service of his country. The answer was quite to the point. ‘He was ready to return to his duty, if the court would assure him of the rank which he thought himself able to obtain, secure to himself and his followers the free enjoyment of their riches, and such employment in the imperial service as would enable them to prove their zeal and valor.’ The court readily granted his demand.
One of his captains, however, was dissatisfied with this submission, and formed a considerable party of the discontented, who under him as a new leader carried on their old trade. They chiefly distressed the commerce of Tseuenchow, the native place of Ching; he on his part was commissioned, on the true Chinese principle of ‘setting a thief to catch a thief,’ to destroy the pirate, his old comrade. He faithfully executed the commission. Not long after, however, the pirates again made head under Leaou Yang; and there was no other relief found than the very dubious one of sending Ching and his forces against him. He met the pirate ‘nothing loath,’ and the action between them lasted all day, and at sunset remained undecided. Then one of Ching’s fleet grappled with the pirate’s own ship, resolved to capture or perish. Leaou Yang finding his escape impossible, determined to fire the magazine and destroy the enemy with himself. But his adversary discovered his design just in time to cast off the grapplings and shove off, when a jet of flame shot up from the pirate’s vessel, destroying both it and himself. Many of the remaining fleet were captured, Ching returned in triumph, and for a time there was peace upon the seas.
Ching had now reached his highest honors; he possessed immense wealth, and was master of a numerous fleet, commanded by captains entirely devoted to his will. His favor was an object of importance to all the rival and contending parties in China at that time. The prince Fuh, on mounting the imperial throne at Nanking, did not disdain to give in marriage a princess of the blood to the son of Ching. All this tide of favor was too much for the ambition of that fortunate chief. He became disloyal towards the emperor, and supported the rival pretensions of one of the royal princes who declared himself emperor. ‘His design,’ says the historian, ‘doubtless was by espousing the claims of the most unpopular claimant of the empire, to make way for himself to power, when the usurping emperor should be disowned by the Chinese.’ But we ought to be on our guard against ascribing too much efficacy to such a cause; for it seems to be the tendency of Chinese historians, when they have once found an acknowledged bad character, to ascribe to him all the evils, past, present and future, which occurred at any time near the appearance of such a monster. When the Mantchous had made great advances into the country, Ching was emboldened to throw off the mask; he proposed to the usurping emperor to adopt his own son, him who was afterwards the far famed Koxinga. The proposal was haughtily rejected by the usurper, who was therefore abandoned by Ching, and soon slain by the Tartars on their breaking into Fuhkeën.
When they advanced upon Tseuenchow, the chief yielded to the solicitations of his family and to the promises of the enemy, and made his submission to the Tartar general. The latter, well knowing his importance and his ambition, treated him with the utmost distinction, and put him off his guard. When he was about to go to Peking, and Ching had come ashore unguarded to honor the general at his departure, he began to invite the chief to accompany him to court, where he might be adequately rewarded. Ching said he was unworthy of such honor: the general thought not, and, ‘nolens volens,’ politely compelled his attendance at Peking. And to Peking they went in 1646. This news spread consternation throughout the fleet; the captains hastily withdrew to sea, yet determined to commit no open hostilities, but wait in hope of the return of their chief from court. Vain hope! He never returned. When Koxinga learned by his spies at Peking, that his father was so guarded that escape was impossible, he vowed himself the implacable enemy of the Mantchous. And well did he redeem that early vow. He began again to ravage the coasts; and of all the bloody wars of the conquest, his was the most cruel. —His name was Ching Chingkung; but his more familiar appellation was Kwoshing, which is in Portuguese spelling Koxing, and with a Latin termination, Koxinga. His wars with the Dutch and capture of Formosa were described at large in the sketch of that island in our last volume.
Koxinga continued a destructive system of piracy on the sea, and of marauding on the land till 1650. No force attempted to restrain him to any considerable extent, and he was indeed a free rover, plundering alike the Tartars and his countrymen who had been compelled to submit to them. But in 1650 when the Tartars had arrived in Kwangtong, and were approaching to Canton, the governor requested his aid to defend the provincial city. Here were gathered together the remains of the Chinese armies: says the historian, ‘the city was so well defended during nearly eight months that the enemy was thrice on the point of abandoning the siege. They were not practiced in naval warfare, and Koxinga made such slaughter among them, that notwithstanding the reinforcements which filled the place of the slain, they could not make themselves masters of the city, till they were led in by treachery through the north gate. Ching Chingkung then withdrew with his fleet from Canton, and resumed his cruising on the seas.’
When all the provinces were reduced to obedience and quiet, Koxinga alone withstood the imperial arms, and still maintained himself sole master on the waters. In the year 1653 he made a decent on Amoy with the design of besieging Haeching. The Tartars also hasted to its succor, and the two fleets met before the town. Little did the undisciplined valor of the Tartars avail against the heavy and well directed fire from Koxinga’s cannon; who, taking advantage of their disorder pressed briskly on them, slew seven or eight thousand, and put the rest to flight. He then returned and carried the town by a general assault, ordering all who were found with arms in their hands to be cut in pieces, but prohibiting injury to the peaceable inhabitants. He repaired the walls and fortified the place for himself with many large cannon. The imperial officers who were charged with the defense of the coast, affrighted at their losses in this battle, retired for safety into the strong fortresses, leaving the exposed and plain country open to his ravages. Meanwhile Koxinga levied his contributions upon the departments of Changchow and Tseuenchow; the small towns and villages he sacked, and transported immense booty to his ships. But while he was delayed in pillaging different places in the vicinity of Tseuenchow, reinforcements from Peking arrived which compelled him to retreat to his ships, and with the loss of his plunder.
Again in 1655, he made a descent upon the departments of Tseuenchow and Hinghwa, which he robbed, and carried the spoils to his fleet. The Tartars chagrined at their inability to restrain a pirate, asked for additional force ‘to keep the people in subjection.’ It was granted, and the coast so thickly garrisoned, that any descent upon land was both dangerous and unprofitable, while he had crushed the trade too effectually to leave him adequate supplies from his prizes. Koxinga therefore formed the design of making himself master of the province of Keänguan. For this purpose he first fortified the island of Tsungming, and gained some other places with the design of securing to himself the mouth of the great river, Yangtszekeäng. Then he proceeded up the river with a fleet of more than 800 sail, and attempted the siege of the provincial city, Nanking. The governor of the city was prepared for a siege, and met the assailants on land. He commanded a sortie with a few thousand chosen men to be tried against the rebel camp. According to the Tartar mode of warfare, there were going to the charge full tilt with bow and arrow in hand; but espied two squadrons of Koxinga’s cavalry coming in their rear to cut off their return to the city. This turned them back at once to assail the Chinese cavalry, where if we may fully credit the account, they were met so vigorously that they entered the gates again indeed, but with the loss of more than half their number. The Tartars attempted no more sorties.
But when the army of Koxinga gave themselves up to dissipation and revelry in celebrating their leader’s birthday, the besieged came upon them at night, and found the camp in disorder, and the soldiers lost in wine and sleep. The assault was so sudden and furious that more than 3000 Chinese were killed, and the rest compelled to re-embark with the loss of their tents, arms, and all their booty. This was a ruinous blow to the vanquished. Koxinga now despairing of success, and expecting more troops also from Peking, again took to the sea. Wearied at length with the insults of this single chief, the imperial court resolved, in 1659, to equip a fleet which should effectually silence the dreaded sea-robber. It was prepared accordingly, and Koxinga spared them the trouble of seeking him. He ordered his men to aim their shot between wind and water, by which means he sunk a large part of the imperial fleet, and captured a still larger number the 4000 prisoners whom he took, he sent ashore after cutting off their noses and ears. When returned to Peking, these mutilated wretches were still more cruelly treated by the emperor than by the pirate; they were all put to death, because they had suffered themselves to be captured.
Koxinga having now heard the sad end of the last of the Ming family, seeing no prospect that the people would declare in his favor as he had hoped, and finding his own attempts both dangerous and fruitless, turned his eyes from China to seek some other asylum and dominion. The account of his seizure and government of Formosa is already in the hands of our readers. But while engaged in founding his kingdom in that beautiful island, he did not cease to distress the inhabitants on the coast, and to draw thence his supplies. This repeated and insufferable course of robbery and slaughter drew at last from the imperial court a most extraordinary order, in 1662. The four regents during Kanghe’s minority were utterly at a loss how to check these depredations. Force had been tired in vain, and the memory of the wretched 4000 was too fresh to hope any thing by new forces. At length they issued the imperial order, that ‘all the people upon the coasts of the maritime provinces should remove themselves and their effects into the interior to the distance of thirty le, (about twelve English miles,) from the shore, on penalty of death; also that the islands be abandoned, and commerce utterly cease.’ This violent edict was actually carried into effect. All the rich and populous cities upon the coast were deserted, the villages fell to ruins and disappeared. The commissioners who were to see to the execution of this order, would have compelled Macao also share the same fate, but for the timely intercession of Adam Schaal at Peking, who represented that Macao could defend itself against the pirates. That town alone was saved. Koxinga died in the following year, and his son did not inherit his father’s spirit; yet it was seven years before this order was revoked, and the people allowed to return to their deserted abodes upon the shore. In 1683, Formosa was surrendered to the emperor Kanghe by the grandson of Koxinga, and thus ended the name and dominion of the once dreaded and revengeful Ching Chingkung.
Next Piratical Epoch in China
The next piratical epoch in China, was about twenty-five years ago, in 1810. It is not meant to intimate by this that during all that interval the seas were quiet, and as the Chinese express it, ‘free from foam,’ but only to designate another period, when the free-booters rose above all restraint from government, and became again the terror of the seas. The proximity of this period to the present time permits us to gain more accurate knowledge of the piratical forces, laws, and discipline, then can be learned from the earlier accounts. For we have a Chinese and Portuguese history, besides the narrative of two English officers, who fell into the hands of the pirates.
Ladrones is the Portuguese name given to the fishing, thieving, and piratical Chinese who inhabit the coasts, and the islands in the vicinity of Macao. Their profession varies according to the severity or the mildness of the season, and according to their success in the piscatory department. But at the period to which we have alluded, there was a great force collected, and a regular system of free-booting had grown up. At first, they had commenced with row-boats, few in number, but manned by 20, 40, and even 60 men. To these were afterwards added captured junks, both merchantmen and of the imperial navy; and their audacity increased with their numbers. But their character and force can best be learned from the written narratives of their unfortunate prisoners; and by comparing these with the Chinese account of ‘scattering the foam of the sea,’ we may by able to present the reader one connected story.
Narratives of J. Turner
Mr. Turner, chief mate of the English country ship Tay, was taken by the pirates in Dec. 1806, and detained among them more than five months. It appears that he left the ship a short distance below Macao, designing to go thither in the cutter to obtain a pilot. He took with him six Lascars and two muskets, and when more than two-thirds of the distance was passed, they met a junk apparently coming out from Macao. She sent off a boat, which it was supposed might be a comprador’s boat, till it was too late to correct their mistake. The pirates boarded the cutter, stabbed a Lascar, and struck at Mr. Turner, who avoided the blow by jumping overboard. He was taken up and carried aboard the junk, where he ascertained to his dismay that he was among the ladrones. They were immediately plundered of all they had, and carried before the chief of the piratical fleet. The ransom demanded was at first $3000; then $10,000, without which thy were constantly threatened with death; but after a month, in which he received no answer to their repeated letters to his friends at Macao and Canton, $30,000 was demanded, which they declared that the Chinese officers, and not the English would pay. A sufficient reason for this silence is the probable fact that the letters were not delivered, and the constant movements of the fleet which carried Mr. Turner with them in all their plundering excursions, prevented for a long time any answer. In forty days after his capture he received from the captain a letter offering $500 ransom, which threats of vengeance on the ladrones, in case of refusal. The only effect was to increase the danger and the ill usage of their captive. A Chinese boat was now taken between Canton and Macao, with twenty-two passengers, ‘with one of whom named Afoo,’ says the narrator, ‘I soon formed a friendship, which afforded me no small consolation during the rest of my captivity. Sometimes we would bewail together our hard fate; at others, encourage each other with hopes of release, I must not omit to mention the kind treatment which Afoo and myself experienced from the purser of the junk in which we were. This man had been taken by the ladrones about three years before, and not having money to ransom himself, had accepted the situation which he then held, in hope one day or other to procure his enlargement. He often invited us to come into his cabin, and one evening when we were all three together we swore to each other, that the one who might first get released should use every exertion in his power to procure the release of the others. Afoo was the fortunate man, having by the generous assistance of Mr. Beale, completed the sum required for his freedom.’ Two months afterwards, Afoo returned to the junk with a pass from the chief, aided in the release of the purse, and in the bargain for Mr. Turner’s liberation at a ransom of $2500. At midnight himself and the remaining Lascars were sent away by agreement to a boat from the hon. company’s cruiser Discovery, which paid the ransom and received the joyful captives.
‘During this captivity of five and a half months,’ adds Mr. T. ‘my fare was the same as that of the common Chinese, and for the most part consisted of coarse red rice with a little salt fish. At night the space allowed me to sleep in, was never more than about eighteen inches wide and four feet long. For the first few days I was used kindly, but afterwards my treatment was very indifferent. Several times have I been struck and kicked by the lowest of the ladrones. Often was I threatened with cruel death, till at last their threats almost failed to intimidate me; though I was well aware that I had nothing to hope either from the justice or mercy of these unprincipled robbers.’
From the narrative of Mr. Turner, corroborated by other sources of information, we can obtain a pretty good idea of the force and habits of these rovers. The total number of vessels engaged in piracy on the south coast of China at that time, he estimated at 500 or 600 sail. These were of every size from 15 to 200 tons, but the majority were from 70 to 150, and noways distinguishable in external appearance from merchantmen. The largest carried twelve guns, from six to eighteen pounders; but as their numbers and their captures increased, it was found in 1810, that vessels of twenty or twenty-five guns were in their fleets. Their hand arms were pikes, with bamboo shafts from fourteen to eighteen feet long; these they throw at a distance like javelins; they have also a shorter species with shafts of solid wood, the iron part similar to the blade of a dirk slightly recurved and made sharp on one or both edges; they also use short swords scarcely exceeding eighteen inches in length. Like the guns of the Chinese forts and men of war, those of the ladrones are mounted on carriages without trucks, having neither breechings or tackles; and being all run out right abeam, never pointed fore or aft, they obliged in making an attack, to wear the vessel in order to bring the guns to bear on the object; a man stands behind with a match, ready to fire as soon as he has a good aim. Having in this way fired their broadside, they haul off to reload. The largest vessels carry one or two hundred men, besides having each a row-boat belonging to them, mounting six or eight small pieces and swivels, and carrying from eighteen to thirty men. The chief use of these is in the running close along shore at night, to plunder and destroy villages which do not pay them tribute.
There is no national flag in China, unless the imperial yellow be thus denominated; but so it cannot be, since it is exclusively appropriated to the imperial person and to those who receive authority from him, whether they are employed in the navy, army, or any other service; the imperial flag cannot be hoisted by any private subject. Hence it is that the flags which fly over the Chinese shipping at Canton on any gala day, are as various as the individual taste or local fashion of the proprietors. The pirates also adopted flags according to the general usage, for mutual recognition and designation. In the time of Turner’s captivity, the whole body of ladrone vessels were under the command of five chiefs, independent of each other, whose divisions were distinguished by their several flags. The division by which he was captured, and which at that time was superior to any of the others, had a red triangular flag, with a white scalloped border. The second had a black triangular flag with a white scalloped border. The third, a red square flag without any border. The fourth, a red triangular flag with a plain yellow border; and the fifth had a square flag of blue and white horizontally. But three years after, at the captivity of the second British officer, they were divided into six squadrons, distinguished by the red, yellow, green, blue, black, and white flags. Each division was formed into several squadrons, under inferior chiefs, who were responsible to the chief of division: at times the whole of the squadrons joined their forces, when danger threatened, or any important enterprise engaged their attention.
The nature of their depredations at this time was often witnessed by Turner, and is thus described in his interesting and minute narrative: ‘All vessels frequenting the coast of China are liable to be attacked by them, excepting such as by paying a tribute to one of the ladrone chiefs, have obtained a pass, which is respected, I believe by all the other divisions. The towns and villages upon the coast, which are not in the neighborhood of any fort, are equally subject to their depredations; and the inhabitants are for the most part glad to compound for their safety by paying a tribute. This tribute is collected from the villages semi-annually, from the boats annually.’ As a proof how far these passes are respected, it is stated, that the chief of a squadron, having detained and plundered a fishing boat that had a pass, was compelled by his superior chief to restore the boat and pay $500 damages. When a merchant vessel is captured without resistance, and the crew is not suspected of having secreted any property, she only suffers plunder and detention; but if any resistance has been made, they generally murder some of the crew and cruelly treat the rest; such person, and other prisoners who cannot or will not ransom themselves, are compelled to unite with the rovers, or suffer the torture which was frequently witnessed by both the English officers: ‘Being first stripped, the hands are tied behind the back, and a rope from the mast head is then fastened to their joined hands, by which they are raised three or four feet from deck, and several men flog them with a rod made of three twisted rattans, till they are apparently dead; they are then raised to the mast head and left hanging nearly an hour, when they are lowered down, and the punishment repeated till they yield or die.’ But when any of the imperial boats are taken, all hands are killed at once, except in cases where they are reserved for more exquisite suffering. ‘I saw,’ says our narrator, ‘one man taken from a mandarin boat, nailed to the deck through his feet with large nails, then beaten with four rattans twisted together till he vomited blood; and after remaining some time in this state, he was taken ashore and cut to pieces.’ On another occasion, one of their prisoners ‘was fixed upright, his bowels cut open, and his heart taken out, which they afterwards soaked in spirits and ate. The dead body I saw myself.’ These atrocities threw such terror over the imperial fleet that they durst not assail these desperadoes, unless with decidedly superior force. All this tended to render the pirates more audacious, till in 1809, it might be almost truly said, the southern sea was their’s.
The most distinguished chief of that day was Ching Yih, who had succeeded in combining in himself nearly the sole authority over all the flags. His predecessor in office and piratical dignity, Ching Tseih, once made a figure in the affairs of Cochinchina. In the times of the revolution in that country, when three brothers drove the king into China, and were in turn expelled by a younger brother of the king, the assistance of this Ching Tseih, then powerful by sea, had been invited by a son and minister of one of the rebels. He acceded to the request, and uniting with them regained a part of the country. But his pride and cruelty having created him enemies, he was driven from the country and killed. Ching Yih his kinsman then assumed his authority, but was several times beaten, and at length compelled to take entirely to the sea with one of the rebel ministers as subaltern chief under him. Then commenced his successful course of piracy; but his ambition rose with his fortune, ‘till he aspired,’ says our Chinese historian, ‘to no less than royal if not imperial power.’ But happily in 1807, a typhon buried both himself and his projects in the Chinese sea. Then followed an event unprecedented in free-bootery; a woman, the wife of the lost Ching Yih, assumed his authority, appointed her lieutenant, and continued the head of the several divisions. Though the name of the dreaded Chang Paou, her officer, was best known and sounded abroad, ‘yet,’ says the historian, ‘she was the prime mover and director of all.’ Under her finishing hand the piratical code became a regular system, and some peculiar features in it may doubtless be ascribed to female influence. From the above cited narratives and from the native historian we will recite a few items. No private might go secretly on shore, under the severest penalties. Whenever any property was taken, it was registered and distributed in equal proportion to the ships; none could embezzle on pain of death. Whatever money was found in their prizes was carried to the chief of division, who gave two tenths to the captors, and reserved the remainder for common use. All provisions, stores, and ammunition procured from the country people, were to be honestly paid for on pain of death. The handsomest female captives were reserved for wives and concubines; a few were ransomed, and the most homely returned on shore. Promiscuous intercourse was strictly forbidden.
We cannot here forbear alluding to the translation of our Chinese historian by the orientalist, Charles Frederic Neumann, to which we are indebted for some of our extracts; in this he makes his author say: ‘No person shall debauch at his pleasure captive women, taken in the villages and open places, and brought on board a ship; he must first request the ship’s purser for permission, and then go aside in the ship’s hold.’ Most delicately said, and ingeniously translated! How much more spirited also, than simply to say with his author: ‘When captive women are brought on board, no one may debauch them; but their native places shall be ascertained and recorded, and a separate apartment assigned to them in the ship; any person secretly or violently approaching them shall suffer death.’
Under this systematic combination, the power and the depredation of the pirates extended so greatly, that orders came from Peking to the chief local officers to exterminate them—a thing much easier said than done in China. But such orders left the officers no other alternative than to lose their heads, or in some way or other to brush way this ‘foam of the sea,’ so much at least that a report of peace might be dispatched to court. For once it would ‘appear that the government was really bent upon the execution of the command, and the whole prowess of the Chinese navy seems to have been exerted. In the first general engagement with the rovers, twenty-eight imperial junks surrendered in one battle, and the remaining twelve escaped by flight. In two succeeding encounters, the imperial fleet suffered defeat with the loss of twenty-four junks. But victory did not constantly follow the wrong side, for the great admiral Tseun proceeded against them with a hundred sail of all descriptions; from him the pirate escaped, but with a very great loss of vessels and men. But in the admiral’s next attack, he lost the battle and his fame together. The pirates assailed him in ‘front and rear.’ ‘Then,’ says the historian, ‘our squadron was scattered, thrown into disorder, and cut to pieces; there was a tumult which reached the sky; each men fought for his life, and scarcely a hundred remained together. The squadron of the wife of Ching Yih overpowered us by numbers, our lines were broken, and we lost fourteen ships.’ After another battle with dubious event, at last an admiral was sent against them to conquer or die; but befriended by the numerous fishermen, the rovers surprised him at anchor and defeat him, with the loss of great numbers of his men and twenty-five vessels. The admiral killed himself.
After these repeated disasters the government devised another mode of warfare against the too powerful pirates, viz. to starve them, by cutting off all supplies of provisions. For this purpose all vessels in port were ordered to remain there, and those upon the coast to return immediately. It was in fact, a rigorous embargo. The consequence of this order was the perpetration of atrocious cruelties upon the helpless people on the coast and along the rivers, by the exasperated pirates. For they were now compelled to separate their forces into several squadrons to procure subsistence; the first under command of the female pirate; the second, under her first lieutenant Paou; another, with Kwo Potae (O-po-tae), &c. It was at this time that they began to make their appearance in Macao roads, and the river of Canton. The governor of Kwangtung and Kwangse removed and lived at Macao for three months, and according to our Portuguese authority, he resolved to purpose a convention with the governor of Macao in order to raise a fleet, which should join the emperor’s squadron and exterminate the common enemy. After deep consultation, they fixed upon certain terms of alliance, such as the following: that six Portuguese vessels should be equipped, and unite with the imperial fleet in cruising between Canton and Macao for six months; that the Chinese government contribute 80,000 taels towards defraying the expenses; and last, and never to be forgotten in the hour of Chinese need, that ‘after the extirpation of the freebooters, the ancient privileges of Macao should be revived.’ The six ships were accordingly equipped with arms and 730 men.
Narratives of Mr. Glasspoole
Such was the posture of affairs, when Mr. Glasspoole, the second British officer to whom we have alluded, unfortunately fell into the hands of these pirates. He was an officer in the company’s ship, Marquis of Ely, and we understand is living in England. For the extracts from his narrative we are indebted to a recent publication, entitled, ‘Lives and Exploits of Robbers, and Banditti.’ Mr. G. left his ship about twelve miles from Macao, to proceed thither for a pilot; but the ship meanwhile having weighed anchor, on his return, he could not reach her in consequence of thick and squally weather. ‘Our boat,’ says the gentleman, ‘was very leaky, without a compass, anchor, or provisions, drifting fast on a lee shore, surrounded with dangerous rocks, and inhabited by the most barbarous pirates.’ After three whole days of suffering, on the fourth morning they fell in with a large fleet of pirates by whom they were captured. ‘About twenty savage looking villains,’ says Mr. Glasspoole, ‘leaped on board of us; they were armed with a short sword in either hand, one of which they had upon our necks, and pointed the other to our breasts, keeping their eyes fixed on their officer, waiting his signal to cut or desist. Seeing us incapable of making any resistance, the officer sheathed his sword, and the others immediately followed his example.’ Mr. Glasspoole was then brought before the chief of the division, who was seated on deck in a large chair, dressed in purple silk, wearing a black turban. On ascertaining that he was an English officer, the chief ordered him to write to his captain, that ‘if he did not send a hundred thousand dollars for our ransom, in ten days, he would put us all to death.’ In another interview, the chief assumed a milder tone and said, ‘if our captain would lend him $70,000 till he returned from his cruise up the river, he would repay him, and send us all to Macao. After vain expostulation I accordingly wrote.’ They were made captives on September 22, 1809, nearly three years subsequent to the captivity of Mr. Turner.
‘At daylight next morning,’ continues our narrator, ‘the fleet, amounting to above 500 sail of different sizes, weighed to proceed on their intended cruise up the rivers, to levy contributions on the towns and villages. It is impossible to describe my feelings at this critical time; having received no answers to my letters, and the fleet being under way to sail hundreds of miles up a country never visited by Europeans, there to remain probably many months, which would render all opportunities of negotiating for our enlargement totally ineffectual; for the only method of communication is by boats that have a pass from the ladrones, and they dare not venture above twenty miles from Macao, being obliged to come and go in the night, to avoid the mandarins; and if they are detected in having any intercourse with the ladrones, they are immediately put to death, and all their relations, though innocent, share in the punishment. Wednesday, the 26th of September, at daylight, we passed in sight of our own ships at anchor under the island of Chuenpe; the chief then called me, pointed to the ships, and told the interpreter to tell us to look at them, for we should never see them again. About noon we entered a river to the westward of the Bogue, (the mouth of the Canton river), three or four miles from the entrance. We passed a large town, situated on the side of a beautiful hill, and which is tributary to the ladrones; the inhabitants saluted them with gongs as they passed.’
In this passage up the river, the pirates committed various robberies, levied contributions on towns which submitted to them, or which they could not destroy, and thus proceeded in their destructive work. One instance, as a specimen of many similar atrocities, we quote entire.
‘October the 1st, the fleet weighed in the night, dropped by the tide up the river, and anchored very quietly before a town surrounded by a thick wood. Early in the morning the ladrones assembled in row-boats and landed, then gave a shout, and rushed into the town sword in hand. The inhabitants fled to the adjacent hills, in numbers apparently superior to the ladrones. It was a most melancholy sight to see the women in tears, clasping their infants in their arms, and imploring mercy for them from those brutal robbers. The old and the sick who were unable to fly or make resistance, were either made prisoners or most inhumanly butchered; the boats continued passing and repassing from the junks to the shore in quick succession, laden with booty, and the men besmeared with blood. Two hundred and fifty women and several children were made prisoners and sent on board different vessels. They were unable to escape with the men, owing to the abominable custom of cramping their feet. Twenty of these poor women were put on board the vessel I was in; they were hauled on board by the hair and treated in a most savage manner. When the chief came on board, he questioned them respecting the circumstances of their friends, and demanded ransoms accordingly, from six thousand to six hundred dollars each. He ordered them a berth on desk, at the after part of the vessel, where they had nothing to shelter them from the heat of the day, the cold of night, or the heavy rains. The town being plundered of every thing valuable, it was set on fire, and reduced to ashes by the morning.’ Here they remained three days, and then and on their return, about one hundred of the women were ransomed; the remainder were offered for sale among the ladrones at $40 each. The woman is considered the lawful wife of the purchaser, who would be put to death if he discarded her.
The following incident we quote from our Chinese historian. ‘Meiying the daughter of Yang Kening was very beautiful, and the pirate chieftain wished to possess her; but she railed at him exceedingly. The pirate becoming angry, suspended her to the mast to force her to submission; her railing only increased. He then lowered her down, and having knocked out two of her teeth, so that her mouth was filled with blood, he drew her up again, intending to shoot her. But she feigning consent to his wishes, he lowered her again and unbound her. Ying now spit the blood upon the pirate, then threw herself into the sea and died. **** the following year, after the pirates had been pacified, I passed by the village, Pwanpeënyuĕ, and moved by the virtue and resolution of Ying and the seizure of the villagers, I wrote an elegiac ode for her as follows.’ We will present first the translation of the ode as given by Neumann.
‘Cease fighting now for a while!
Let us call back the flowing waves!
Who opposed the enemy in time?
A single wife could overpower him.
Streaming with blood, she grasped the made offspring of guilt,
She held fast the man and threw him into the meandering stream.
The spirit of the water, wandering up and down on the waves,
Was astonished at the virtue of Ying.
My song is at an end!
Waves meet each other continually.
I see the water green as mountain Peih,
But the brilliant fire returns no more!
How long did we mourn and cry!
‘I am compelled’ says professor Neumann, ‘to give a free translation of this verse, and confess myself not quite certain of the signification of the poetical figures used by our author.’ We will subjoin a less free translation,
‘The spirit of war has now ceased and vanished way;
Let us go back in thought, returning like the winding stream.
Who was there that could then resist the foe,
When but a single female was found to insult his power?
With her blood, she spat on the guilty wretch,
Then despising life, she sunk in the curling waves.
Her pure ice-like spirit now wanders over the stream—
Her courageous soul with hesitancy lingers behind.
‘My song ended, I still loitered on the spot, and casting a look on all around, I saw the hills retained their blueness, and the sea its azure hue; but the beacon smoke and the shadowing masts return no more. Long I staid disburdening myself of sighs.’
It would be too revolting to the feelings to follow the narrator and our Chinese historian in their detail of the piratical depredations during that dreadful month. For twenty days the freebooters continued their work of desolation along the shores of that river and its branches, wringing out the hard earned tribute from the poor inhabitants, or sweeping away the villages in their uninterrupted course of pillage, violence, and butchery. At the end of that time their work of death was interrupted by the appearance of a large imperial fleet coming up the river to attack them. They met, but the imperial fleet retired with the loss of five sail, eighty-three having made good their retreat. The admiral blew his own vessel; but the pirates succeeded in getting twenty guns from her. Very few prisoners were taken, the captured crews preferring to drown themselves.
Towards the close of October, Mr. Glasspoole received a letter from his captain assuring him that he should be ransomed at any price, but advising not to offer much at first. He therefore offered to the chief $3000, which the latter disdainfully refused, and demanded $10,000 with other presents. When the pirates were now ready to attack a town called little Whampon, guarded by a small fort and several vessels of war, Mr. Glasspoole was commanded to order his men (of whom he had seven British seamen), to make ready to go ashore and aid them in battle. Mr. Glasspoole refused, as Mr. Turner had done in similar circumstances. ‘But on being promised that if he and his men would aid them in taking the place, the chief would accept the money offered for their ransom, and give them twenty dollars for the head of every Chinese, we cheerfully acceded to these proposals, in hopes of facilitating our deliverance.’ The pirate then attacked the government vessels, cut up the crews, towed the vessels out of the harbor, and again assailed the town with redoubled fury. ‘The inhabitants fought for about a quarter of an hour, and then retreated to an adjacent hill, from which they were soon driven with great slaughter. After this, the ladrones returned and plundered the town, every boat leaving it when laden. The Chinese on the hills perceiving that most of the boats were off, rallied and retook the town after killing near 200 ladrones. One of my men was unfortunately lost in this dreadful massacre. The ladrones landed a second time, drove the Chinese out of the town, then reduced it to ashes, and put all their prisoners to death without regarding either age or sex! The ladrones were paid by their chief ten dollars for every Chinese head they produced, and I was witness to some of them producing five or six to obtain payment.’
Chinese and Portuguese Join their Forces against the Pirates; Divisions among Them, and Their Submission to Government
A few days subsequent to this tragical event, Paou, the admiral of the pirates, sent orders for this squadron to repair immediately to Lantao to his assistance against Portuguese. They accordingly weighed anchor, and in passing Lintin were chased by three Portuguese ships and a brig, which styled themselves ‘the invincible squadron, cruising in the Tigris to annihilate the ladrones!’ The black and red squadrons now united, but soon again separated; the black standing out to the eastward, and the red being anchored in a bay under Lantao. Here they were attacked by the Portuguese, while seven junks of the pirates, which were all that were then fit for action, were hauled outside, and moored head and stern across the bay. The Portuguese ships in passing this line, each fired her broadside, but without effect, the shot falling short. The ladrones returned not a shot, but awaited their nearer approach, of which however they were disappointed; for the Portuguese retired, lamenting in their public report, that there was not sufficient water for them to engage closer; yet Mr. Glasspoole declares ‘the outside junks lay in four fathoms of water, which I sounded myself.’
In this bay and at this time there was the best exhibition of skill and force of which we read in all these encounters; for the boasted nine days’ blockade called forth the best of these qualities on both sides. ‘On the 20th of Nov,’ says Mr. Glasspoole, ‘we discovered an immense fleet of mandarin vessels standing for the bay. On nearing us, they formed a line and stood close in each vessel as the discharged her guns, tacked to join the rear and reload. They kept up a constant fire for about two hours, when one of their largest vessels was blown up by a firebrand thrown from a ladrone junk; after this they kept at a more respectful distance, but continued firing without intermission two days, when it fell calm. The ladrones then towed out seven large vessels with about 200 row-boats to board them; but a breeze springing up, they made sail and escaped. The ladrones returned into the bay and anchored; the Portuguese and mandarins followed, and continued a heavy commanding during that night and the next day.’ Again on the third day in the evening, it fell calm, and the same scene was reacted; the ladrones rowed out and succeeded in capturing one vessel mounting twenty-two guns. Again they returned into the bay, the Portuguese and imperialist following and keeping up a constant fire.
‘On the night of the eighth day of blockade, they sent in eight fire vessels, which if properly constructed must have done great execution. They came very regularly into the centre of the fleet, two and two, burning furiously; one of them came alongside of the vessel I was in, but they succeeded in booming her off. The ladrones towed them all on shore, extinguished the fire, and broke them up for firewood. The Portuguese sent a dispatch to the governor of Macao, stating that they had destroyed at least one third of the ladrones’ fleet, and hoped soon to effect their purpose by totally annihilating them. On the 29th of November, the ladrones being all ready for sea, weighed and stood boldly out, bidding defiance to the invincible squadron and the imperial fleet, which consisted of ninety three war junks, six Portuguese ships, a brig and a schooner. The ladrones chased them two or three hours, keeping up a constant fire; but finding they did not come up with them, they hauled their wind and stood to the eastward. Thus terminated the boasted blockade, which lasted nine days, during which time the ladrones completed all their repairs, lost not a single vessel, and only thirty or forty men. An American was also killed, one of three that remained out of eight taken in a schooner. I had two very narrow escapes. The chief’s wife frequently sprinkled me with garlic water, which they consider an effectual charm against shot.’
The time for the release of Mr. G. and his companions in captivity was now come. He received a note from the commander of the honorable company’s cruiser Antelope, who had been three days searching for the forlorn prisoners. The necessary arrangements were soon made; a ladrone boat proceeded alone to receive the ransom, but on her return was watched and chased by a mandarin boat. ‘Our situation was now a most critical one; the ransom in the hand of the ladrones, and the boat not daring to carry us to the ship for fear of the mandarin boat.’ Next morning the chief inspected the ransom which consisted of the following articles, —two bales of superfine cloth; two chests of opium; two casks of gunpowder; a telescope, and the rest in dollars. After a little further difficulty, ‘we had the inexpressible pleasure of arriving on board the Antelope, at 7 p.m. December 7th, where we were most cordially received, and heartily congratulated on our safe and happy deliverance from a miserable captivity, which we had endured for eleven weeks and three days.’
The power of these outlaws was now at its greatest height, and their path may truly be said to have been a course of desolation and blood. Yet this fearful combination in the righteous providence of God was destined to be soon scattered after reaching such a height. It was broken, not by the Portuguese power, now by the imperial arm, but by that which has ruined many a better cause, internal division. Ever since Paou had been elevated by his own valor and the favor of the chieftainess to the chief command, alteration and enmity had subsisted between him and his rival Kwo Potae. Kwo Potae was commander of the black squadron, as Paou was of the red; but once when the latter was blockaded by a strong imperial fleet, Kwo Potae openly threw off all allegiance and alliance and refused to come to his aid. Paou as usual escaped from his enemy, but when afterwards the rival captains met, their animosity broke out into blows and a sanguinary battle ensued between the two flags. The fleet of Paou at that time was much inferior in numbers, and after a bloody engagement he suffered defeat; sixteen of his vessels were lost, and 300 of his men were captured, who were all inhumanly massacred.
This was a deathblow to the confederacy which had so long defied the emperor’s power. Kwo Potae now equally exposed to danger on both sides, resolved, before matters should come to extremity, to submit to government. General amnesty had been proclaimed in the emperor’s name to the submissive pirates, and he resolved to avail himself of this occasion to withdraw from his associates, on condition of free pardon and a proper provision for all his followers.
But too happy in according mercy where power had failed, the government ‘feeling that compassion is the way of heaven, therefore redeemed these pirates from their former crimes.’ Kwo Potae took another name, and was elevated to the rank of an imperial officer.
The red flag of Paou and the chieftainess was still flying over much the greater number of freebooters, and their ravages continued some months longer, but more limited. But being much weakened by the desertion of their accomplice, harassed too incessantly by the enemy, who had now acquired knowledge of their rendezvous and strength, and encouraged, we cannot doubt, by the success of their former associates in crime, they began to entertain thoughts of submission. When this desire became known to the messenger whom the governor of Macao had sent to sound their feelings, arrangements were soon made for a visit from two inferior officers to the piratical fleet. But the suspicious of Paou and the chieftainess that treachery was designed, made it necessary to obtain for them and their followers the very highest pledges of safety. A meeting was therefore agreed on between them and the governor of Canton himself, to take place near the Bogue, and without any retinue. It is said the governor trembled a little and his check grew pale as he advanced in a single vessel towards the line of the pirates. The dreaded pirates with Paou and another officer came upon the deck where his excellency was stationed, fell on their knees, knocked head, and received his gracious pardon. But the sudden appearance of some Portuguese and imperial ships interrupted this fair train of negotiating, and caused the pardoned pirates to flee in consternation to their fleet again. But after a few days delay, having become satisfied that no treachery had been designed, a council was called to deliberate on renewing the interrupted surrendry. The chieftainess offered to go alone to Canton and finish the arrangements, being willing to show as much confidence in the governor as he had exhibited towards them. The pirates reluctantly consented to her daring proposal, and accordingly she went with several of the pirates’ wives and children to the provincial city, completed all the arrangements with the governor and the Portuguese commissioner, and the fleet soon followed. The governor went down to Heängshan, and received the submission. They were allowed to retain their property or an equivalent; they who chose, enlisted under government to aid in exterminating their remaining comrades who still stood out. ‘This is the manner in which the great red squadron was pacified.’ Paou and Kwo Potae were both active in hunting out and destroying the gangs of their old confederates. ‘After this act,’ says our Portuguese authority, ‘Paou set out for Peking, where he found a seat in the court, and for his experience was much esteemed by the emperor.’ Thenceforward all became quiet on the rivers and tranquil on the four seas. For his exalted services, the governor was permitted by solemn edict from ‘the son of heaven’ to wear a peacock’s feather with two eyes!
From the narrative of Messrs. Turner and Glasspoole we gather some additional facts respecting this once outlawed but now loyal class of celestial subjects. ‘With respect to conjugal rights they are religiously strict; no person is allowed to have a woman on board unless married to her according to their laws. Each man is allowed a small berth about four feet square, where he stows his wife and family, the young ladrones.’ So great scarcity and distress were produced among the thousands of pirates by the orders of government to cut off all their supplies, that their atrocities at that time perpetrated on the peaceful people, were rather the vindictive effect of long exasperation. ‘During our captivity,’ says Mr. G., ‘we lived there three weeks on caterpillars boiled with rice; in fact, there are very few creatures that they will not eat.’ And this account will appear less and less incredible in proportion to our acquaintance with the habits and means of living in time of scarcity among the Chinese poor. The pirates were much addicted to gambling, and spent their leisure hours at cards and smoking opium. Such of their captives as were unable to ransom themselves, and volunteers, sustained and increased their numbers. Frequently five, ten, and twenty men of this latter description arrived in one party; some were only vagabonds, but many of them, says Turner, were men of decent appearance, and some even brought money with them. Such were at first allowed to withdraw at pleasure, but latterly the chief refused to permit any join him for term less than eight or nine months.
Another curious, but not altogether singular trait of these lawless men, was their reverence of religious or superstitious rites. We find the were ready to ask counsel of their gods in reference to their murderous work, where and when they should rob and murder the innocent and helpless; and they were sincere enough to adhere to the supposed directions even to their loss. It is stated by Turner that the chief on consulting their gods on one occasion, was required to give up his own ship and take a smaller one, with which he complied. The prisoners who united with the pirates were required to go before the idols and swear in a prescribed from to fidelity. From Mr. G. we learn that on a time that fleet anchored before a town which was defended by four mud batteries, and during two days remained perfectly quiet. On the third day, the forts commenced and continued a brisk fire for several hours while the ladrones returned not a shot, but weighed in the night and dropped down the river. The reason they gave for this procedure was, that the idols had not premised them success. They were very superstitious and consulted their gods on all occasions; if the omens were good, they would undertake the most daring enterprises. In their progress of desolation up the river of which we have spoken, from several small villages they received tribute of dollars, sugar and rice, with a few large pigs roasted whole as offerings to the idols. Every prisoner also on being ransomed, was obliged to present a pig or some fowls, which the priest offered with prayers; it remained before the idols a few hours and was then divided amongst the crew. Does not this prove that a sense of religion is innate in man, and is not wholly eradicated even from the bosoms of the most profligate and cruel? And does it not equally prove that vain man is ever ready to delude himself with the hope of the divine protection and guidance and favor, even in the prosecution of inhuman and detestable wickedness?
In 1807, Mr. Turner estimated the number of vessels under all the piratical flags at 500, and the total of pirates at 25,000 men. But in 1809-10, when their power was at its greatest height, Mr. Glasspoole calculated their force to consist of 70,000 men, navigating 800 large vessels, and 1000 small ones, which included also their row-boats. These estimates appear not to have been ventured at random, but after a repeated enumeration of the six divisions so far as they could be reckoned by squadrons, and smaller detachments under the various flags. This number must also be understood to include all the open pirates which scoured the south and southeastern coasts of China at the time, and which were all under one or another of the flags. By their numbers and the nature of the country adjacent, they were truly a formidable band; and although not endowed with that valor which characterizes many other desperadoes, yet they were not wholly destitute of courage. They often stood well under attacks from superior forces; yet this may not have been so much owing to their own courage as to the knowledge of their assailants’ cowardice. For the ridiculous weakness of the Chinese navy is as well known as is its great numerical strength. There can be little or no just doubt that in point of numbers, the navy of this country has superiority over every other in the world. At the navy-yard of this city alone, we have seen during the last autumn and winter not less than twelve or fifteen new men-of-war launched. The preceding year witnessed about the same-number; yet none of these remain in port at the year’s end, but they are all dispatched to their various stations as guard vessels, or cruisers against the pirates. These vessels are most of them of the smallest class, not exceeding perhaps six or eight guns each; yet the cheapness and dispatch with which they are built is unknown in other countries, and only exceeded by their imperfections. In point of speed, strength, safety, guns, powder, balls, men, officers, tactics and courage, (if indeed the two later ought to have a name at all in China,) they are so vastly inferior to a modern ship of the line, that scarcely any amount of numbers can make them equal to one such foe.
We will close this account by a word relative to piracy since the great pacification of 1810. Chow Feiheung the conjurer, whose mediation had been used in treating with Paou the chief pirate, was afterwards ornamented by imperial order, with a peacock’s feather, and acted many years as a Chinese officer of Macao. He was a great opium eater and opium smuggler, and died miserably. The famous widow of Ching Yih still lives in this city; she is nearly sixty years of age, and leads a life of peace, so far as is consistent with keeping an infamous gambling house. The ten thousands of poor wretches who were disbanded, were neither annihilated, nor subdued, nor provided thereby with future support beyond their present ill gotten means, and though there has been no such confederacy of pirates subsequent to that event, yet their names and their deeds and their wants continued; and frequent distresses have occasioned frequent piracies. To the present time depredations continue, especially near Hainan and Fuhkeën. Europeans, who have recently visited the eastern maritime parts of China, have several times been in villages whose inhabitants resort to robbery and piracy, when their other means, if any, of subsistence fail them. In times of scarcity, robberies are frequent, even between this city and Macao. Before the Chinese new year’s day, when money is in special demand, they venture up to the city, and even prowl as land pirates about it, and in its streets; a native friend last winter told us the instances were so frequent of persons being carried off by them for the sake of ransom, that no man could feel himself safe alone in the streets after nine o’clock at night. There are one or more places on this river of so infamous memory, that every Chinese boatman, if the dusk of evening fall around him near that spot, passes with quick and silent stroke and many a fearful look behind him.
Source: The Chinese Repository, vol.3 (May 1834 to April 1835): 62-81.