Friday, November 30, 2007

Pirates in the South China Sea: Zheng Zhilong

“Chinese pirates are rather amazing; there were hundreds of [famous] Chinese pirates.”

-David Cordingly

Smuggling between Japan and China has a long and profitable tradition even more so since trade began in China. The Chinese government was always very strict about who they allowed their merchants to trade with, and made traders settle in specific areas where they could be monitored, such as Macao. Piracy however, was a long and renowned vocation along the Chinese coast.

The Chinese emperors often made attempts to curb the piracy along their shores, but were inevitably helpless to stop it. European Powers found themselves dealing with Pirates more readily than governmental powers in China, such as the Pirate King, Zheng Zhilong.

Zheng Zhilong was born in Fujian to a merchant family, he was very well educated at the hands of Portuguese missionaries in Macau in the early 1600s. He was baptized Nicholas Gaspard at the age of 18, helping his family become Westernized in order to trade with the Westerners they were quickly prosperous.

Over the years as China's relationship with the Portuguese became strained, an occasion as predictable as the tide, and the western traders were expelled from Macau, Gaspard relocated to Taiwan, conquering part of the island for China for the first time.

A smuggler of western goods might seem an unlikely candidate for a high government position, but in piracy and politics, things are rarely that black and white. Zheng Zhilong's domination of commerce and smuggling in the hard-to-control Fujian province, as well as his prestige in the community and generosity towards the Chinese Imperial Family led to his appointment as Admiral of the Coastal Seas.

Zheng Zhilong's son, Koxinga is a famous character as well, his actions leading to Zheng's eventual execution, but that is a story for another day...

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