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RMT - Pirate Queens #2 of 10 Lai Choi San

 Friday, 13 May 2011

Lai Choi San was a 20th century Chinese pirate, who prowled the South China Sea during the 1920s and into the 1930s.

She commanded not only a ship but a fleet of a dozen junks based in the South China Sea, sailing also through the East China Sea and even into the Sulu Sea near the island province of Palawan in the Philippines.
She was reportedly the inspiration for the character of the beautiful but ruthless Dragon Lady in 1930s U.S. comic strip, Terry and the Pirates.

An interesting account of the otherwise little known Lai Choi San’s life and times is recounted by Finnish journalist Aleko E. Lilius, a freelance writer and adventurer who ranged through China, Morocco and Mexico, reporting back on his travels.

Lilius describes the pirate queen of the Macau and her comrades from an insider’s perspective in this excerpt from I Sailed with Chinese Pirates:

Here was I…getting the chance of a lifetime, to sail with Chinese pirates to the central nest of the most merciless gang of high-seas robbers in the world, in an armored junk commanded by a female pirate…
What a woman she was! Rather slender and short, her hair jet black, with jade pins gleaming in the knot at the neck, her earrings and bracelets of the same precious apple-green stone.

She was exquisitely dressed in a white satin robe fastened with green jade buttons, and green silk slippers. She wore a few plain gold rings on her left hand; her right hand was unadorned. Her face and dark eyes were intelligent…and rather hard. She was probably not yet forty.

Every move she made and every word she spoke told plainly that she expected to be obeyed, and as I had occasion to learn later, she was obeyed. What a character she must be! What a wealth of material for a novelist or journalist! Merely to write her biography would be to produce a tale of adventure such as few people dream of.

That evening I heard from an American who had sailed the waters around Macau for fifteen years the following story about this remarkable woman:

‘Her name is Lai Choi San. So many stories center about her that it is almost impossible to tell where truth ends and legend begins. As a matter of fact, she might be described as a female Chinese version of Robin Hood. They have much in common.

Undoubtedly she is the Queen of the Macau pirates. I have never seen her. I have almost doubted her existence until you told me of meeting her. She is said to have inherited the business and the ships from her father, after the old man had gone to his ancestors “with his slippers on” during a glorious fight between his men and a rival gang.

The authorities had given him some sort of refuge here in Macau, with the secret understanding that he and his gang should protect the colony's enormous fishing fleets and do general police duty on the high seas. He even obtained the title of Inspector from somebody in authority, and that, of course, placed him morally far above the other pirate gangs.

He owned seven fully-armored junks when he died. Today Lai Choi San owns twelve junks; nobody seems to know how or when she acquired the additional five, but it is certain that she has them. She has barrels of money, and her will is law.’

‘You may ask,’ he continued, ‘why I call them pirates, since their job is only to “guard” the numerous fishing craft. However, the other gangs want the same privileges as the present “inspectors” have, therefore they harass and plunder any ship or village they can lay their hands upon. They kidnap men, women and children, hold them for ransom, ransack their homes and burn their junks and sampans. It is up to the protectors to undo the work of these others and to avenge any wrong done them. Naturally, there is bitter and continuous warfare between these gangs.

This avenging business is where the piratical characteristics of the “protectors” come in. There is frequent and profitable avenging going on wherever the various gangs meet.

Lai Choi San is supposed to be the worst of them all; she is said to be both ruthless and cruel. When her ships are merely doing patrol duty she does not bother to accompany them, but when she goes out “on business,” she attends to it personally. When she climbs aboard any of her ships, there is an ill wind blowing for someone.’

The historical pirate queen Lai Choi San also inspired a radio series and a U.S. TV series in the 1950s, also called Terry and the Pirates, based on comic artist Milton Caniff’s Dragon Lady character.

The campy and now dated 1950s portrayal of the sleek anti-heroine became somewhat of a pop culture stereotype of the beautiful but ice-cold villainess, often of Asiatic descent, who was enigmatic, savvy and indomitable. The phrase ‘dragon lady,’ in contemporary slang, can be a either a dubious compliment or a grudgingly respectful insult, depending on the context.

Meet more dastardly pirates in Random Magic!

Book trailer for Random Magic 

Pirate quote from Random Magic:

Winnie peered through the spyglass.
"Yep," she agreed. "Those are pirates, all right."
"What are we going to do?" Henry said, eyes bulging.
Winnie pondered the question briefly. She shrugged.
"Let them capture us," she said, and headed back down into the galley.
"Yes, that's very sensible as always, we should just let them -- what?"

Thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoyed reading about this kick-ass pirate queen. Here's another interesting tour feature you might also wanna check out:
The main Rum + Plunder treasure hunt is open internationally! Here’s a fun way to win something piratey and cool:
Browse prizes or join the hunt… 

Bonus: Find even more pirate plunder with Little Pirate Prizes. The Little Pirate Prizes are cute and cool -- but they're not marked, so they could be ANYWHERE on the tour.

You're welcome to find some buried treasure, if you like: Follow the tour 

Also if you fancy taking a look at the fabulous Paper doll design of Lai Choi San's robe described above, then check out Liana's Paper Doll Blog where you can enter for a chance to win one of her designs!

Have fun and good luck!


Anonymous,  13 May 2011 at 20:53  

Really fascinating! I have a deep love of pirates, but I find Chinese pirates particularly interesting. Thanks for the info :)

vvb32 reads 13 May 2011 at 21:01  

neato tidbit about the comic strip connection with Terry and the Pirates. love to see a modern day movie version of this pirate lady.

Jo 14 May 2011 at 18:24  

Cool post!!!! She sounds like quite a woman!

Kiwi Ivashkov 26 May 2011 at 11:52  

In the modern day she would be defined sexy i think- beautiful, wise and intimidating all at once! Thanks for the info! :)

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