Besides Hua Mulan, there have been many other Chinese warrior women throughout history. Today, we are going to take a look at 3 very special women.
One of the earliest female Chinese leaders we know of, Fu Hao was, until recently, fairly unknown due to most records of her accomplishments not surviving due to her life preceding the invention of paper. However, with her tomb recently unearthed, we have began to understand just how interesting a woman she really was.
One of Shang Dynasty King Wu Ding’s 64 political wives, she rose to become a wife in truth, the second in rank of only 3. While she had a child through difficulty, Prince Jie, it seems her primary role was as a military leader. She commanded a retinue of 13 thousand soldiers with at least two generals serving under her, making her the most powerful Shang leader of the time. Her people had had been fighting a group known as the Tu-Fang for generations. She managed to end the generational conflict in a single decisive battle. She also fought numerous engagments with other nearby nations.
It seems she was particularly revered by the emperor – after her death, he would offer ritual sacrifices at her burial place, asking her spirit for help in battle. Strangely she was buried away from the royal family across a river, Thankfully for us, this means her tomb is the only royal Shang dynasty burial place that has survived unlooted, letting us learn about her through oracle bone inscriptions as well as the many personal items filling her tomb.
Xun Guan was possibly the youngest female Chinese military leader. Her father, the governor of Xiangyang, was attacked by one of his officials in a coup attempt . The only way to survive was if a small force could break through the siege and commandeer reinforcements from a nearby city. The only one with a plan the governor thought could work was Xun Guan – his 13-year old daughter. The young but very brave leader managed to lead a sneak attack at night that got them through enemy lines, allowing them to make it to Pingnam, where she requested help. Her father’s ally General Shi Lan was willing, but unsure if he had enough troops to turn the battle. He suggested she write a letter to a nearby General Zhou Fang in another city and request more troops. She did, and together the 3 leaders and their forces headed back to save her father. Her father recognized the opportunity, and, with a two-pronged attack, the 3 leaders managed to destroy the siege and route the attackers.
Considered the most successful pirate in all of history, she started her life as a lowly prostitute on a floating Chinese brothel. A successful pirate Cheng I took notice of her and married her. Apparently well-aware of her valuable non-sexual attributes (some wager the real reason for their marriage), he entered into a contract with her that gave her 50% ownership and control over all his endeavors. Shih and Cheng adopted one son Cheung Po Tsai for the purposes of legal succession and Shih bore two others. Cheng and Shih used soft and hard power to form an alliance with other pirates, forming the Red Flag Fleet.
When Cheng I died, Shih acted quickly to gain the loyalty of the other captains and fill the leadership vacuum. Working together, Shih and her stepson Cheung managed quick success, which apparently led to them becoming lovers. In time, they managed to assemble a fleet of several hundred ships with crew numbering in the tens of thousands. They were so successful that, in their heyday, they fought against the British, Portuguese, and Qing. Easily winning against the Qing dynasty ships, they struggled against and were finally forced to surrender to the Portuguese navy. That same year, the Qing dynasty gave an amnesty to all the pirates (minus a few hundred to set an example), and Ching Shih and Cheung Po Tsai accepted it. Asking for their legal status as mother and child to be dissolved, which was approved, they got married and had two children. She opened a brothel and lived to a ripe old age of 69, dying surrounded by family.