Chinese pirates attack a merchant ship

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The emergence of pirates such as Cai Qian, Zhu Fen, and Cheung Potsai had given a rise to piracy during the Jiaqing Era. The three pirates were highly active in the coastal areas of Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong, with Cai being the most prominent among the trio. They not only harassed the coastal regions, but even attempted to take over Taiwan as their base.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Cai Qian and Zhu Fen, the two largest pirate groups at the time, constantly hid in the areas of Zhejiang, Fujian, Taiwan, and Guangdong, making their capture extremely exhausting for the Qing navy. However, despite joining forces in robbing river travellers from time to time, Cai Qian and Zhu Fen also faced periods of hostility. This presented the Qing Court an opportunity to pacify Zhu Fen in order to alienate his relationship with Cai Qian so that the Qing government could attempt to take down the two bands. \=/

One diagram in a memorial shows the pursuit of the pirates in Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong. “In a coordinated attempt to destroy the two bands, Zhang Jiansheng (Viceroy of the Fujian Navy) and Xu Songnian (General-in-Chief of Kinmen) entered Huizhou, Guangdong from the borders of Fujian and travelled southward to engage in a 10-day hunt of Cai Qian. Meanwhile, Wu Xiongguang (Viceroy of Liangguang) commanded Qian Menghu (Viceroy of Guangdong) and Wang Delu (General-in-Chief of Fujian, Guangdong, and Nan’ao) to move northward from Macau to capture Zhu Fen. However, as the naval troops from Fujian and Zhejiang were unfamiliar with the Guangdong areas, the Haifeng County issued a memorial to the government and immediately recruited local helmsmen to help operate and guide the ships to prevent any delays in the mission. This allowed the hunt for pirates to go with minimal interruption. The pursuit of pirates often resulted in the Qing navy walking into unfamiliar territories, which posed significant risks of them getting lost or stranded. However, this also proves to show the superior performance of Tongan ships to travel in oceans of varying depths. \=/

Cai Qian had his eyes on ruling Taiwan and even killed the Provincial Commander of Zhejiang Li Changgeng. Emperor Jiaqing and his ministers thus saw Cai as a “damned and heinous criminal to be brought to justice; and that the sea will remain unsafe for as long as he roams free.” \=/

Chui A-poo and Shap Ng-tsai

Chui A-poo

Chui A-poo (died 1851) was a 19th-century Qing Chinese pirate who commanded a fleet of more than 50 junks in the South China Sea. He was one of the two most notorious South China Sea pirates of the era, along with Shap Ng-tsai.In September 1849, his fleet, which was based in Bias Bay east of Hong Kong, was destroyed by British and Chinese warships. More than 400 pirates were killed and Chui was seriously wounded. Although he managed initially to escape, he was betrayed and handed over to the British. A bounty of $500 for the gruesome murder of two officers. His punishment was lifelong exile to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), but he hanged himself in his cell before it could be carried out. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Shap Ng-tsai was a Chinese pirate active in the South China Sea from about 1845 to 1859. He commanded about 70 junks stationed at Tien-pai (Tienpak), now Diancheng in Dianbai County, about 180 miles west of Hong Kong. Coastal villages and traders paid Shap Ng-tsai protection money so they would not be attacked. Chinese naval ships that pursued the pirate were captured and their officers taken captive and held for ransom. The Chinese government offered him a pardon and the rank of officer in the military but he did not accept. +

Shap Ng-tsai was blamed for sinking an American ship and three British ships carrying opium in the spring of 1849. That September, a squadron of British ships went to Tien-pai and found 100 captured ships there held for ransom, but failed to find the main pirate fleet. Then in October, three British ships and eight Qing navy junks pursued the pirates to the islands and channels of Haiphong, Vietnam and fought the pirates for three days. Afterwards the expedition reported the destruction of fifty-eight pirate junks carrying 1,200 cannons and 3,000 crewmen. Shap Ng-tsai escaped the battle with six smaller junks and 400 men. He later surrendered to the Chinese government and accepted the military position.+

Top Commander Killed in Effort to Catch Cai Qian

Flag of Shap Ng-tsai

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: In December 1807 Provincial Commander of Zhejiang Li Changgeng, “Zhang Jiansheng, and Xu Songnian led the navy from the Ganju Sea into the Guangdong Sea. Li and Zhang later joined forces at the Zhoumen Sea and pursued Cai. Cai, with 11 pirate ships moving from Nanao into the Guangdong Sea, fired at the naval ships in an attempt to escape. The chase continued through the night, and, by the morning of the 25th, only three of Cai's ships remained. The Qing navy did not ease off on the chase and fiercely followed Cai's ships into the Heishui Sea. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“By this time, the headpiece and flags on Cai Qian's ship had been knocked off; the hull had been partly damaged and the crew suffered significant casualties. However, Cai's army was resilient and continued to fire back at the pursuers. Li ordered an unsuccessful fire attack on the pirate ships which were quickly put out by the pirate crew. Then, fierce winds came unannounced and set off mountainous waves, rocking the ships. As Li attempted to reorganize a besieged attack on Cai's ships, he was shot in the throat and forehead and died between the hours of 13:00 and 15:00 on the 25th of Dec. The Qing's naval ships were scattered by the wind but eventually regrouped on the 26th at the Haimen Sea in Chaoyang County, Guangdong to enumerate their losses. \=/

Effort to Capture the Pirate Cai Qian

Cai Qian

A memorial in the National Palace Museum, Taipei collection dated to January 1808 “records the account on the pursuit of the pirates by the naval generals of Fujian, Zhejiang, and Guangdong from 1807 to the beginning of 1808. The death of Provincial Commander Li Changgeng strengthened Emperor Jiaqing's resolution to chase down rebel Cai Qian. Alinbao, Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang vigorously coordinated naval fleets to continue the hunt of Cai Qian. On December 26, 1807, Alinbao received the report by Provincial Commander Zhang Jiansheng informing him of Cai Qian's activities in the Jiazi Sea in Huizhou, Guangdong. Zhang, together with the Regional Commander of Kinmen Xu Songnian, engaged in the pursuit and subsequently went into battles with the Guangdong pirates and the Vietnamese bandits. At the same time, General Wang Delu and Provincial Commander of Guangdong Qian Menghu endeavoured in the chase of Zhu Fen. In a coordinated attempt with Zhang's army, Wang and Qian engaged in a double-sided attack on Cai's remaining forces. \=/

“The death of Li shocked the imperial administration; Emperor Jiaqing also marked "the loss to the country," "the life of the emperor lies with his military generals" in the official document. He marked "x"s beside every mention of Cai's name to display his fury. In the edict, Emperor Jiaqing also revealed that he was "shaken in disbelief" upon hearing the death of Li, and he later bestowed Li the title of earl. Scholar Ruan Yuan wrote a poem as a tribute to Li, which read "he, who exhausts the rebels to their last ship, stands alone in the pursuit to world's end; he, who travels as far as 5,000 li and for as long as four decades, will not retire until the capture of the deadly criminals; he, who detaches himself from the luxury of his home and pillow, vows to continue before the realization of his goal; he, who swears to put the assailants away for good, will see the beauty of the narcissus before his peers." (By Zhou Wei-Qiang)\=/

“At the end of the memorial is the emperor's remark, stating that "all naval generals are ordered to have Cai arrested immediately; nobility will be granted to those with successful capture of the rebel and those who fail to fulfill their duty will endure capital punishment. I, the emperor, am deeply grieved by the incident which has befallen Li, and should Zhang Jiansheng and Wang Delu neglect their duties to avenge the death of Li, they will have failed as a general of our country. I hereby mandate that this decree be forwarded to the naval base of Zhejiang and Fujian."

Cai Qian Finally Killed

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After over 10 years of pursuit” Cai Qian “was finally hunted down and killed. Upon his death in August, 1809, Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang Zhang Shicheng, Provincial Commander of Fujian Wang Delu, and Provincial Commander of Zhejiang Qiu Lianggong sent a memorial to Emperor.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

According to the memorial, Wang received Governor-General Zhang's letter informing him of Cai's activity in the Southern Ocean. Upon learning the news, Wang and Qiu immediately led the fleet southward and arrived the Yushan Sea on August 17. “They quickly discovered over ten of Cai's pirate ships and began pursuing them. The Zhejiang Navy overtook the pirate ships by noon, and the pirate ships retaliated by firing back at the pursuers, destroying the head mast of the ship led by General-in-Chief of Huangyan Town Tong Zhensheng. The Fujian Navy later fired back and broke up the pirate ships. \=/

Destruction of Chui A-poo's pirate fleet

“Wang and Qiu, meanwhile, focused the attack on the ship where Cai had occupied. The pursuit of Cai's ship lasted through the night; the perseverance of the Qing army denied Cai of any room of maneuverability to properly repair the ship, and because of it, the ship eventually lost most of its mobility and the chance for Cai to escape was essentially extinguished. In the morning of the 18th, the Qing Navy issued another wave of attacks at the Heishui Sea where Wang and Qiu commanded fire attacks, causing severe pirate casualties. However, the Qing army at the same time had lost the jinjishun —a merchant ship which it had rented— and the Cheng-type battleship. Cai used the anchor to hook onto Qiu's ship as the two parties engaged in a furious battle. Qiu was stabbed in the left leg by a spear and the side of his ship was also destroyed. Water also began to fill the cabin. Fortunately, the Zhejiang Navy soon arrived and unhooked Qiu's ship for a safe exit. Meanwhile, General-in-Chief Sun Dagang's ship endured artillery attacks and began to deteriorate; Wang continued his attacks while remaining close to Cai's ship. \=/

“Despite being besieged on all sides by the Qing Navy, Cai was hesitant to surrender. With all of the bullets exhausted on the ship, he began replacing it with silver coins and successfully injured Wang by shooting it in Wang's forehead. Wang bled and lost consciousness from the injury but was later medicated and awakened by his soldiers. He again issued a fire attack on Cai's ship, demolishing the side of the enemy ship as well as its poop deck. He also used his ship to smash and sever Cai's rudders, which caused Cai and his wife to slip into the sea and to their death. The once notorious sea pirate was sent into the oblivion. With the death of Cai, it signified that the time for peace on the sea was finally going to arrive. \=/

Shi Lang, Pirate or Hero?

Shi Lang (1621-1696) was a Ming general regarded by some as a traitorous pirate and by others as a genius in naval warfare. He defected to the Manchu-Qing Dynasty, when it had conquered all China except Taiwan, and led an amphibious operation with 300 warships and 20,000 troops against Taiwan in 1683, eventually forcing Qing rule on the island, which until then had been governed by a ruler loyal to the Ming. According to some accounts Shi Lang seized much of southern Taiwan for his own profit, extorted the islanders and instituted policies that deliberately aimed to isolate Taiwan from the rest of the Qing empire. [Source: Jens Kastner, Asia Times, April 13 2011 =/=]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Because of Shi Lang's successful conquest of Taiwan and achievements in stabilizing the coastal areas, he was declared the "Jinghai General" (General who Maintains Peace on the Seas) and given the hereditary rank of marquis. In 1688, Shi Lang paid a formal visit to Emperor Kangxi, requesting the emperor to grant him his retirement due to old age. The emperor thoughtfully persuaded Shi and made a decree for Shi to reinstate his position as the Provincial Navy Commander of Fujian, who resumed the role and later died in office on March 21, 1696 at the age of 76. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Destruction of pirate fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin

The Chinese government proposed naming its first aircraft carrier after Shi Lang. Jens Kastner wrote in the Asia Times that Shi has provided the “Chinese with a useful historical narrative of late. “ It is not surprise that “Shi Lang isn't held in particular high regard by Taiwanese locals. And the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long refrained from painting him as “the “ national hero who deserves to be worshipped for having unified the divided motherland. After all, the general was a defector. For China, “the “ national hero, whose role it is to morally instruct and install patriotism into Chinese youth, is the legendary Zheng He (1371-1435), also known in English as Cheng Ho, who commanded the Ming Dynasty's "treasure fleet", visiting Arabia, Brunei, East Africa, India, Malay Archipelago and Thailand. “ =/=

“The recent rehabilitation of Shi Lang, the conqueror of Taiwan, was not an idea of the Chinese government, but the country's scholarship and movie industry. Shi Lang has become the subject of a growing number of popular TV novellas, the long-dead general increasingly making en vogue the perception that the use of force to reach China's sacred national goal of cross-strait unification is not only just but also ripe with precedence. “ =/=

Anti-Piracy Efforts by the Qing Dynasty

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “To solve the problem of piracy, two adaptive strategies were adopted by the Qing Court: capture or amnesty by enlistment. The former allowed absolute eradication of the pirate forces but required strong and powerful backup from the government. The latter avoided unnecessary casualties but demanded a greater deal of effort involving the coordination and subsequent arrangement for the pirates. Furthermore, during the process of capturing the criminals, the stage to provide the two parties to negotiate and communicate often required some random incidents to pave the way.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

A memorial dated to 1809 that provided an example of the above policy describes the incidents which had befallen the Taiwanese official Qing Hua. “Qing, after retiring from the office, headed for Penghu with his family in the company of 16 Manchurian soldiers. Unfortunately, due to unsmooth sailing caused by fierce winds, the ship was blown to the Shenhu Sea on Mar. 18, where Qing was greeted by the minions of rebel Cai Qian. The two parties engaged in a battle and Qing was wounded during the attack. Just when all seemed to be lost, an army coming from the Chongwu Sea emerged and chased away Cai's minions. Qing, unable to engage in another battle, headed toward the bow of the ship and exclaimed "this is the former official of Taiwan Dao, I hereby request you to stand down and withdraw fire!" Soon, the leader of the opposing gang emerged from the cabin, claiming himself to be Zhu Wo, the brother of Zhu Fen. He ordered his crew not to assault the merchant ship, and engaged in a dramatic act by kowtowing the former official. He then began retelling the story explaining his intentions to apply for amnesty and enlistment. \=/

Beheading of five pirates in Hong Kong

“Zhu explained to Qing the decree of amnesty granting an official pardon for criminals on the grounds of capturing Cai. Despite numerous attempts, the pursuit of Cai by Zhu had not been successful. In December 1808, his brother Zhu Fen captured Cai's minion Xu Lin along with 163 other crew members. While attempting to take them to General-in-Chief of Kinmen Xu Songnian and General of Nan'ao Hu Yuhong, Zhu Fen's ships were greeted with fired attacks from the naval fleet whenever they attempted to approach the imperial navy, and Zhu Fen was eventually killed in the line of fire. Zhu Wu hoped that the imperial court would allow him and his crew to save a couple of ships so that they would be able to care for themselves. They were willing to hand over the remainder of the ships and assist the imperial army to take down Cai. Zhu later dropped Qing off at the Ouhai river mouth in the Xinghua Prefecture, and because of this, Alinbao requested Emperor Jiaqing to grant pardon to Zhu and enlist him. (By Zhou Wei-Qiang), Palace memorial congratulating His Majesty on the capture of the top sea outlaw Cai, Palace memorial congratulating His Majesty on the capture of the top sea outlaw Cai \=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Asia for Educators, Columbia University; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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