Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Showing posts with label Ancient China. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ancient China. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Terror of South China

We’ve heard of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, and Henry Morgan—all famous for the piratical exploits and successful in their own ways. But who is the most successful pirate of all time? How about a captain of strength and courage who commanded a fleet of over 300 ships and, according to the varying resources, 20 to 40 thousand crewmen? This captain was also able to forge alliances with other pirate leaders, growing her control to over 1500 ships and 80 to 180 thousand pirates.

Her? Yes, her. Ching Shih must have been one hell of a woman.

Ching Shih was born in 1775 in Guangdong, a province in southern China. Not much else is known about her other than she was a Cantonese prostitute with a floating brothel. Her business acumen must have started at a young age because she climbed the ranks quickly, apparently through her beauty and effective, sultry tête-à-têtes with the wealthy and social elite.

In 1801, she caught the eye of a notorious pirate, Cheng I, who proposed marriage. She agreed on one condition—that she have an equal share in his power and loot. Ah...true love. And so for the next six years, this tag team managed a proper piracy, leading a butt-kicking, scary powerful armada called the Red Flag Fleet. But then Cheng I died. Could have been by a tsunami or it could’ve been murder, no one knows for sure. At any rate, Ching Shih had to do some shrewd thinking and maneuvering to keep her place as the ruler among men.

What’s a savvy girl to do? She began a romantic relationship with Cheng I’s adoptive son and likely heir, Cheung Po Tsai. This while nurturing coalitions and existing loyalties, solidifying her authority with business and military strategies. Beyond making money the old-fashioned pirate ways of attacking ships, pillaging coastal towns, and outsmarting British, Portuguese and Chinese navies, she also dipped into blackmail, extortion, instituting levies, and even offered protection plans for those who provided supplies to her fleet.

But what about the monumental task of governing her growing number of pirates? Her answer to that is the code of conduct she wrote. It was quite harsh, even by pirate standards. By example, anyone who disobeyed an order lost their head, on the spot. Ouch! Ching Shih’s policy on female captives was infamous. Not-so-pretty women, to put it politely, were released unharmed.  Attractive women were auctioned off to the crew as concubines. However, if a pirate outright purchased a prisoner, they were considered married and he was expected to care for her. And he better be faithful, lest he be executed by Ching Shih’s order.

The Red Flag Fleet was unstoppable and Ching Shih’s moniker “The Terror of South China” had been well earned. She simply could not be defeated, not by China, Britain, Portugal, or the bounty hunters hunting her. In an effort to stop the hemorrhaging, in 1810 the Chinese government offered her, Cheung Po, and all pirates prowling under their command a deal too good to refuse. Leave the pirate life and receive global amnesty. But negotiations stalled in regards to what would happen to the reserve of booty as well as the fact the Chinese government wanted the pirates to kowtow before them. Ah, but remember, Ching Shih was a foxy woman. She negotiated an epic deal where most of her followers escaped any sort of punishment and got to keep their earnings. As for the kowtowing, it was solved in a simple matter. The government officially recognized the marriage of Ching Shih and Cheung Po and the two kneeled before them in thanks. Brilliant, really.

Ching Shih and Cheung Po retired from piracy with their riches and had a son together. Cheung Po went on to secure a comfy military post in the Qing Imperial Navy in the same year of their amnesty and Ching Shih opened a prosperous gambling house. Not bad for a couple of ruthless pirates.

The poor prostitute who took over the world as a formidable, wealthy pirate queen lived the rest of her days in peace, dying in 1844 from old age as a 69-year-old grandmother.

About the Author

Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Ancient Ritual of Footbinding

WARNING: Some may find the pictures I will have displayed throughout this blog disturbing.

I first became enamored with the Chinese culture when in high school our history teacher assigned us the book Spring Moon, by Bette Bao Lord. It was also in the book that I first learned about foot binding.

Now, I haven’t read this book in over a decade, but I will be reading it again soon, and today I will present to you the ancient ritual of foot binding.

Women in China bound their feet for over a thousand years. There are several stories explaining why the custom began, but no one can say which one is the true reason. One tale, which is documented during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) is of Prince Li Yu (R. 961-975) falling for a concubine, Yao Niang, whose tiny feet made her look like she floated as she danced, and was called the “lily-footed” woman. Women began to bind their feet to emulate in dance and grace the style of the concubine. Another story is that an had a clubbed foot, and in order to make herself appear beautiful and un-deformed, she asked her husband to order foot-binding to be mandatory. Another story is of a sleepwalking empress with fourteen inch long feet. It was decided her sleepwalking was from her large feet and so a surgeon was summoned to cut off part of her feet, making them 3 inches long. She was very pleased and did not sleep walk again, however she was not pleased that all the rest of the women in the palace still had naturally long feet. It was decreed from then on that all women must have small feet.

Foot-binding was more than just a beauty regimen. It was a way of life, and would be very difficult to get rid of. Because it was such a popular ritual in society, men would not marry a woman who did not have her feet bound. Starting among the upper class it trickled down to even the lowest classes as it was then seen as a way to marry into the upper classes. Small feet were so coveted, that fairy tale stories of peasants marrying upper-class because of their tiny feet did come true. A precedent was set, and girls at a very young age would have the painful ordeal of getting their feet bound. Men found the short steps in the gait of woman with bound feet to be erotic, calling it the “lotus gait.” One rumor is that the new way of walking would tighten a woman’s vagina, thus making her grip her husband’s penis during intercourse more tightly. This is because after the feet are bound and you can’t walk part of your lower leg muscles atrophy. When they begin walking again they use the muscles around their hips and buttocks to walk, which builds up those areas.

The foot fetish was extreme. Men liked to do things with the feet, touch them with their unmentionables, kiss them and caress them…The feet were considered to be the most intimate part on a woman’s body, kind of like breasts are today. Her shoes, like a bra or panties…

Have you ever seen an ashtray, pipe, dish, etc… in the shape of or designed with the “lotus shoe?” I recall many of these items in my grandparents home since my grandfather was stationed in China for a time.

Not to mention that crippling the woman did not allow her to participate much in anything having to do with politics. Women were mostly restricted to their homes as their dependency on their families was so strong. If they did venture from the home they had to have an escort help them, since they were so unstable on their feet. Most would be carried or ride in a sedan, for they couldn’t walk for long periods of time.

The Chinese are not the only ones with the painful rituals for beauty and social status. Think of women and corsets, plucking, waxing, dyeing, surgical enhancements, piercings, tattoos, high-heels. And don’t forget the saying, which I have said myself plenty of times when brushing the knots out of my daughters hair, “pain is beauty.”

***Groan*** I will never say it again!

During the 17th century, the Manchu’s tried to abolish the foot-binding practice, but it continued into the 20th century when a real movement began to end the act. In 1911 when the Qing Dynasty came to an end, and the new Republic of China government banned the practice. Some still bound their feet in secret and still live today.
The process of foot-binding was very painful. The mother or grandmother of the girl would be the one to perform the binding between the tender ages of four and seven years old, before the arch of the foot had a chance to develop. Binding would be done in the winter months when feet were prone to be numb from cold, and the pain would be less extreme.

The feet would first be soaked in a warmth concoction of herbs and animal blood or warm water, then rubbed with ointment and massaged. This step would help remove all the dead skin on the foot. The toenails would be clipped before short. Then the four smaller toes on each foot would be broken. While this process was taking place the mother/grandmother would have been soaking 10 foot long bandages in the herbal liquid. She would then take these bandages and wrap them tightly from the broken toes to the heel. This would cause the bottom of the foot the bend concavely. Several accounts reported the breaking of the foot to bend it in half as well. The feet were then forced into 3-inch long “lotus shoes.” The feet were rebound every 2 days. Blood and puss would be washed from the feet. After two years of this, the feet would be about 3-4 inches long which was the desirable length. To keep them this size, the foot-binding would continue for another ten years.

For a woman who worked in the fields or somehow managed to refuse the traditional practice, she was often teased, and almost always looked down on. Names such as “lotus boats” would be referred to her feet. Mothers would refuse for their sons to talk to these girls, because of their non-bound feet.

Foot-binding caused a lot of health problems for women. If the feet were not bound properly, blood circulation would be cut off so badly that toes would die, fall off, the skin would rot, gangrene would start in the foot. Such bad infections could cause the woman to die, and some did. Infections would happen quite a bit from the un-cleanliness of the feet. Because it took so long to bind the feet, most women would along unbind them every two weeks to wash them. In that period of time, quite a bit of bacteria and other things can grow in the folds and creases of the bound foot.

Women with bound feet are not only more likely to fall and break a hip or their back because they are not as balanced on their feet, it is actually proven that they have lower hip bone and back bone ratio than women with unbound feet. Women with bound feet also have difficulty in squatting, which is necessary in numerous daily activities.

I myself, am naturally a clumsy person. I couldn’t imagine if my size 9 foot shrunk to 3 inches! I would not make it more than one or two steps without falling… How about you?