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The most successful pirate of all time - Dian Murray

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At the height of their power, infamous Caribbean pirates like Blackbeard and Henry Morgan commanded as many as 10 ships and several hundred men. But their stories pale next to the most successful pirate of all time, who commanded 1,800 vessels, made enemies of several empires, and still lived to old age. Dian Murray details the life of the fearsome Madame Zheng.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Dian Murray
  • Director Steff Lee
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Animator Steff Lee
  • Designer Steff Lee
  • Composer Gav Cantrell
  • Associate Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
The phenomenon of a female pirate is rare around the world, which makes Madame Zheng’s reputation as the world’s most successful pirate truly remarkable. At the same time, women in South China often operated the sampans that occupied the South China Sea—and pirate ships sometimes boasted a handful of women onboard.

This was a far cry from the situation in European and American waters, where even the presence of women onboard was considered bad luck. As a result, female seafarers in Western history have been few and far between. However, the two most famous female pirates of piracy’s Golden Age (1630-1730) include Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Both women caught the attention of the era’s major chronicler, Captain Charles Johnson, who positioned their names front and center on the title page of his epic A General History of the Pyrates.

This anthology, with lengthy biographies of the most famous pirates of the Golden Age, has defined piracy in the modern era and served as the model for many of the most famous pirates of both history and literature. Many of the central historical figures have found new life as the romanticized heroes and villains of popular culture: Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Jack Rackham (Calico Jack), and Bartholomew Roberts (Black Bart). Since its first publication in 1724, the tome has received considerable attention from historians and literary authors alike. They continue to do so today, where popular culture abounds with pirates of both fact and fiction.

Yet, in China, Madame Zheng has been virtually absent from the historical record. Ironically, it is in the United States—and not China—where Madame Zheng’s legacy is most alive and well today. She is seen as a historical figure in her own right; as a denizen of the pirate fanciers of internet popular culture; and as the inspiration for Mistress Ching in the third Disney movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean at World’s End” (2007), where she was played by Takayo Fischer.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Dian Murray
  • Director Steff Lee
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Animator Steff Lee
  • Designer Steff Lee
  • Composer Gav Cantrell
  • Associate Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen

Share

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