Cunning Cheung Po Tsai

Cunning Cheung Po Tsai (1786-1822) 張保仔

Don’t believe all pirates were jolly men who swung from masts and danced jigs. In nineteenth century Hong Kong many pirates were scavengers, kidnappers and murderers. They threatened fishermen, stole food from local villagers and raided merchant ships to demand protection money. Cheung Po Tsai was the leader of the most powerful gang of pirates of them all – the Red Banner fleet. He controlled hundreds of ships and 17,000 men. Rumour has it that the famous cave you can visit on Cheung Chau used to be stuffed with his treasure.

2Po Tsai was a fisherman’s son. At the age of 15, while fishing, he was kidnapped by the former leader of the Red Banner fleet – Zheng Yi. Po Tsai was trained in the art of piracy, soon racing up and down the Pearl Delta, pillaging villages, seizing booty and fighting the second-most powerful gang of pirates - the Black Banner fleet. So fearless was Po Tsai that when Zheng Yi died, the Red Banner pirates elected him their new leader.

In 1809 the Chinese Emperor Jiaqing took action. He appointed a brave man called Bai Ling to be the Governor General of Guangdong. Bai Ling immediately cut off the food supply to the pirates and set up a neighbourhood reporting system called baojia. He also commissioned local armies and built fortifications from where soldiers could bomb the pirates with cannon balls.

In October of that year, near Chep Lap Kok, a big battle was fought between the Red Banners and a government fleet. Po Tsai managed to escape but eventually the government forces smashed his fleet and Po Tsai surrendered.

Interestingly, Emperor Jiaqing later pardoned him, offered him a job in the Chinese navy and ordered him to help eliminate other pirate gangs!

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