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PIRATE QUEEN by Helaine Becker


A Story of Zheng Yi Sao

by Helaine Becker ; illustrated by Liz Wong

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-77306-124-5
Publisher: Groundwood

From stolen bride to pirate queen: a young woman’s rise to become the most powerful pirate in history.

When pirate Zheng Yi and his crew raid the port city of Canton, they plunder both goods and women. Zheng Yi picks one girl to be his bride. Boldly, Zheng Yi Sao (meaning “Zheng Yi’s wife”) shoots him a stipulation: She will marry him only “if he [gives her] an equal share in his enterprise.” Six years later, Zheng Yi is dead, and his widow now commands 70,000 men and over 1,800 ships. Zheng Yi Sao realizes that a queen can’t “win at cards” alone. She must “strengthen [her] hand by drawing from [her] decks,” winning the loyalty of Zheng’s lieutenants by sharing power. Before long, South China’s seas come under her control, and even the emperor’s ships are no match for Zheng Yi Sao’s Red Flag Fleet. Eventually, Zheng Yi Sao grows tired of life at sea. With the same defiance and boldness that she employed so long ago, she demands her freedom from the governor-general of Canton. There is little primary documentation about Zheng Yi Sao’s life, as Becker states in a concluding note, but working with what’s known she has woven together a poetic first-person story that’s both believable and readable. Wong’s stylized pencil illustrations highlight intricate details that epitomize turn-of-the-19th-century China, a restrained palette providing color.

A welcome addition to the growing strong-women-in-history shelf.

(sources, further references, note on names) (Picture book. 6-9)