Cheung Po Tsai
Cheung Po Tsai (1783 – 1822), whose name translates as “Cheung Po, the Kid”, was a poor fisherman’s son who went on to become a notorious Chinese pirate operating in the vicinity of modern Hong Kong. He became legendary because of a treasure he supposedly buried in a cave that bears his name on Cheung Chau island southwest of Hong Kong.
Cheung was kidnapped at age 15 by a pirate who pressed him into his crew. The teenager quickly took to piracy, exhibited a precocious talent for the new career suddenly thrust upon him, and rose swiftly through the ranks. Before long, Cheung had become his kidnapper’s favorite protege and subordinate and ended up getting adopted by him and his wife. After his adoptive father’s untimely death by drowning, his widow and Cheung’s adoptive mother took over his pirate fleet, and Cheung became her right-hand man. The pair soon developed an incestuous affair and married, after which Cheung took charge of the piracy business from his wife/ adoptive mother.
Cheung’s scale of piratical operations far exceeded anything seen in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, and at the height of his career, he commanded more than 600 ships and over 50,000 men. With that massive armada, Cheung and his pirates effectively controlled and held for ransom the shipping lanes around southern China.
His massive depredations and the resultant outcry finally compelled the Chinese authorities to launch a commensurately massive campaign to eradicate piracy and restore order. In 1810, seeing the writing on the wall and deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Cheung accepted a pardon, joined the Chinese navy, and spent the rest of his life as a pirate hunter.