Sister Ping

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Cheng Chui Ping (simplified Chinese: 郑翠萍; traditional Chinese: 鄭翠萍; pinyin: Zhèng Cuìpíng; Wade–Giles: Cheng Ts'ui-p'ing), also known as Sister Ping (萍姐 Píng Jiě), ran a notorious Chinese human smuggling operation primarily from her base in New York City from 1984 until 2000, when she was arrested in Hong Kong and subsequently extradited back to the United States.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ping was born January 9, 1949 in the poor farming village of Shengmei ("Prospering Beauty") in northern Fujian province, China. Ping's father, Cheng Chai Leung, who was from Shengmei, and mother, who was from a neighboring village, had five children in all.[2] Ping was 10 months old when Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China.[2] She attended the village elementary school as a child and worked on the family farm, helping raise pigs and rabbits, chopping wood, and tending a vegetable garden. According to Ping's biographer, Patrick Radden Keefe, who interviewed her in 2008, Ping said that as a girl of 12 years old she survived the capsize of a rowboat in which she had been traveling to another village to cut wood for kindling. She recalled of the incident that all of the people in the boat who had been rowing and had been holding an oar when the boat turned over managed to survive, while "the two people who were lazy and sat back while others worked ended up dead.... This taught me to work hard."[2] Ping also said that during the Cultural Revolution, she became a leader of the Red Guard in her village.[2]

When she was 15, her father left the family and traveled to the United States as a merchant marine crewman. He stayed in the US for 13 years, working as a dishwasher and sending money home to the family every few months. He was apprehended by US immigration authorities and deported back to China in 1977. When he returned to China, Ping's father entered into the business of smuggling people.[2]

Sister Ping married a man from a neighboring village, Cheung Yick Tak, in 1969.[2] They had a daughter, Cheng "Monica" Hui Mui, in 1973;[2] Ping later had 3 other children.[1] The family moved to Hong Kong in 1974.[2] Passing through Canada,[3] they settled in New York City's Chinatown, in the United States, in 1981, where they opened a shop, the Tak Shun Variety Store, catering to homesick Fujianese immigrants.[2]

Smuggling business[edit]

Individuals who conducted such Chinese alien smuggling operations are known as "snakeheads". Almost all of the immigrants whom Sister Ping harbored came from Fujian province. She was renowned as the most notorious snakehead, operating the largest, most sophisticated operation of its kind, which became international in scale.

Ping's smuggling operation was fraught with numerous problems, many of which made headlines. One such story involved a cargo ship named the Golden Venture which ran aground off the beaches of Queens, New York in June 1993. The Golden Venture had 286 would-be immigrants from China in its hold, all of whom had been traveling for months, many near starvation. Ten people drowned in the incident.

Ping fled the United States in advance of an indictment in 1994. The FBI and INS spent the following six years attempting to apprehend her, but she was believed to reside mainly in China, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. In 2000, she was arrested in Hong Kong, and eventually extradited to New York.[4] She was convicted in June 2005 after a jury trial before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, on three separate counts, which included one count of conspiring to commit alien smuggling, hostage taking, money laundering and trafficking in ransom proceeds. Sister Ping is currently serving a 35-year sentence. She is currently incarcerated in Danbury, Connecticut (BOP #05117-055) and is due for release in 2030.

Cultural references[edit]

Sister Ping and the Golden Venture are the subject of Patrick Radden Keefe's 2009 book, The Snakehead.[5] The Snakehead is currently being developed into a motion picture for director Stephen Gaghan.[6]

The Golden Venture disaster and the lives of some of the passengers are the subject of Peter Cohn's 2006 documentary Golden Venture.[7]


  1. ^ a b Preston, Julia (2006-03-17). "Ringleader Gets 35-Year Term in Smuggling of Immigrants". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Keefe, Patrick Radden (2009). The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385521307. 
  3. ^ "Cheng Chui Pin: 'mother of snakeheads'". BBC. March 17, 2006. 
  4. ^ Patrick Radden Keefe, "The Snakehead: The Criminal Odyssey of Chinatown's Sister Ping," The New Yorker, April 24, 2006
  5. ^ Patrick Radden Keefe, The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream (Doubleday, 2009)
  6. ^
  7. ^

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