Zheng Yi Sao
Zheng Yi Sao
|Died||1844 (aged 68–69)|
|Occupation||Pirate leader, prostitute and gambling house owner|
|Other names||Ching Shih (鄭氏)|
|Allegiance||Guangdong Pirate Confederation (1805-1810)|
|Base of operations||Lantau Island, Guangdong, Qing China|
|Commands||Guangdong Pirate Confederation (400 ships, 40,000–60,000 pirates in 1805) Personal command of 24 ships and 1,433 pirates in 1810|
|Later work||Gambling house owner at Guangzhou|
|Zheng Yi Sao|
|Literal meaning||wife of Zheng|
|Cheng I Sao|
|Literal meaning||wife of Zheng Yi|
Born as Shi Yang in 1775 to humble origins, she married a pirate named Zheng Yi at age 26 in 1801. Zheng Yi Sao was a honorific bestowed upon her by the people of Guangdong, meaning wife of Zheng Yi. After the death of her husband in 1807, she took control of his pirate confederation with the support of his adopted son Zhang Bao, who she entered into a relationship with and later married. As the unofficial commander of the Guangdong Pirate Confederation, her fleet was composed of 400 junks and between 40,000 to 60,000 pirates in 1805. Her ships entered into conflict with several major powers, such as the East India Company, the Portuguese Empire, and Qing China.
In 1810, Zheng Yi Sao negotiated a surrender to the Qing authorities which allowed her and Zhang Bao to retain a substantial fleet and avoid prosecution. At the time of her surrender, she personally commanded 24 ships and over 1400 pirates. She died in 1844 at the approximate age of 68, having lived a relatively peaceful and prosperous life since the end of her career in piracy. Zheng Yi Sao has been described as history's most successful female pirate, and one of the most successful pirates in history.
Zheng Yi Sao was born in 1775 in around Xinhui, Guangdong. She was possibly a Tanka, who worked as a prostitute or procurer on a floating Tanka brothel (花船) in Guangdong. In 1801, she married Zheng Yi, a well-known pirate.
Marriage to Zheng Yi
Zheng Yi was a pirate who fought as a privateer for the Vietnamese Tây Sơn dynasty in the Tây Sơn wars against Qing China and later Nguyễn Ánh. Under Tây Sơn patronage, he fought in his cousin Zheng Qi's fleet. Zheng Yi hailed from a family of well-known pirates whose roots traced back to the Ming dynasty. He had an adopted son, Zhang Bao, who was abducted by Zheng Yi in 1798 at the age of 15, and subsequently pressed into piracy.
A year after their marriage in February 1802, Zheng Yi's cousin Zheng Qi was captured and executed by Nguyễn forces in the town of Jiangping (江平) on the border of Vietnam and China, near present day Dongxing (东兴). On July 20, 1802, Nguyễn Ánh entered the city of Thăng Long, which marked the end of the Tây Sơn dynasty. Zheng Yi quickly took over Zheng Qi's fleet after his death, and sailed back to the Chinese coast together with the rest of the Chinese pirates formerly under Tây Sơn patronage. What followed was a period of infighting among the pirates near the Guangdong coast, but with the help of Zheng Yi Sao, who was a capable consolidator and organizer, Zheng Yi was able to unite the pirates into a confederation through the signing of an agreement on July 1805 in which each pirate leader agreed to sacrifice some of his autonomy for the greater good. The confederation consisted of six fleets known by the colour of their flags – red, black, blue, white, yellow, and purple. Zheng Yi commanded the biggest fleet in the confederation, the Red Flag Fleet.
Zheng Yi Sao had two sons with Zheng Yi. Zheng Yingshi (鄭英石) was born in 1803, and Zheng Xiongshi (鄭雄石) was born in 1807.
Ascension to leadership
On 16 November 1807, Zheng Yi fell overboard in a gale and died at the age of 42. Zheng Yi Sao quickly took over her deceased husband's operations, through the support of Zheng Yi's nephew Zheng Baoyang (鄭保養) and the son of Zheng Qi, Zheng Anbang (鄭安邦). Zheng Yi Sao also balanced the various factions in the confederation, and was familiar with Guo Podai (郭婆帶), leader of the second biggest fleet in the confederation, the Black Flag Fleet, who was abducted by Zheng Yi and pressed into piracy at a young age. Most importantly, Zheng Yi Sao had the support of Zhang Bao, who was in effect commanding the Red Flag Fleet at the time.
Zheng Yi Sao effectively inherited her deceased husband's informal command over the entire Pirate Confederation, while Zhang Bao became the official commander of the Red Flag Fleet. According to a report by Wen Cheng Zhi (溫承誌), a government official who led the negotiations with Zheng Yi Sao and Zhang Bao with the Viceroy of Liangguang Bai Ling (百齡) later in 1810, "Zhang Bao obeyed Zheng Yi Sao's orders, and consulted her on all things before acting (張保...仍聽命於鄭一之妻石氏，事必請而後行)."
Leader of the confederation
In 1808, a year after Zheng Yi Sao took power, the Pirate Confederation became significantly more active. In September, Zhang Bao first lured then ambushed Lin Guoliang (林國良), brigade-general (統兵) of Humen, and destroyed his fleet of 35 ships near Mazhou Island, located east of present day Bao'an District, Shenzhen. A month later in October, Zhang Bao defeated lieutenant-colonel (參將) Lin Fa (林發) near present day Weiyuan Island east of Humen Town. These two engagements reduced the Chinese provincial fleet by half, and cleared the way for the pirates to enter the Pearl River.
1809 was an eventful year for the Pirate Confederation under the command of Zheng Yi Sao. In March, Provincial Commander (提督) Sun Quanmou (孫全謀), with around 100 ships under his command, engaged a small group of pirates near Dawanshan Island, and the pirates called Zheng Yi Sao for aid. Before the battle, Zheng Yi Sao took command of the Red Flag Fleet and the White Flag Fleet, ordered Zhang Bao to engage from the front with around 10 ships, Zhang Bao's lieutenants, Xiang Shan'er (香山二) and Xiao Bu'ao (蕭步鰲) to flank Sun from the sides, and Liang Bao (梁保), leader of the White Flag Fleet, to cut Sun off from the rear. During the heat of the battle, Zheng Yi Sao charged in with the bulk of the Red Flag Fleet and the White Flag Fleet, which routed Sun. On July 21, the Qing navy dealt a major blow to the Pirate Confederation by killing Liang Bao and destroying Liang's White Flag Fleet at an engagement near present day Jinwan District, Zhuhai, at the cost of losing brigade-general Xu Tinggui (許廷桂) and 25 ships to Zhang Bao.
Liang's death and the destruction of the White Flag Fleet did not deter Zheng Yi Sao. In August 1809, Zheng Yi Sao ordered a massive raid: Zhang Bao would raid around Dongguan with the Red Flag Fleet, Guo Podai would raid around Shunde with the Black Flag Fleet, and Zheng Yi Sao would lead the raid around Xinhui with her personal fleet. Guo Podai worked his way through the numerous waterways along the Pearl River for six weeks on a bloody raiding campaign which ultimately resulted in the deaths of approximately 10,000 people. In early September, Zhang Bao completely destroyed a large town not far from Humen and killed 2,000 inhabitants. Numerous villages, settlements, and towns fell victim to the rampaging pirates.
On September 27, Zheng Yi Sao personally took command of 500 ships and anchored near Tanzhou (潭洲). On the 29th, Zheng Yi Sao ordered Zhang Bao to raid the town of Shating (沙亭) further upriver, where he captured around 400 civilians; on October 2, Zheng Yi Sao order Guo Podai to anchor around Jigongshi (雞公石), presumably near Sanxiongqi (三雄奇, modern day Sanhongqi 三洪奇), where he raided two days later. By late October, the provincial fleet was back to strength and ready for action under the command of Sun Quanmou, but was defeated again by Zhang Bao on the evening of October 21 near the town of Shawan (沙灣).
Blockade of Tung Chung Bay
In desperation, Chinese officials looked with renewed interest at the "foreign barbarians", hoping to obtain aid against Zheng Yi Sao and the Pirate Confederation. The Portuguese Empire, which controlled Macau at the time, agreed to help – on September 5, 1809, Zheng Yi Sao captured the brig of Antonio Botelho Homen (the Portuguese governor of Timor), and the Portuguese were eager for payback.
In early November, 1809, Zheng Yi Sao suddenly left the Pearl River with only a few ships, and anchored at Tung Chung Bay, north of Lantau Island, for repairs. On November 4, the Portuguese sent three ships and a brig to harass Zheng Yi Sao at Lantau, who immediately called the Red Flag Fleet under Zhang Bao for aid. On the 5th, Zhang Bao arrived at Tung Chung Bay, and seeing that the Portuguese were no longer around, decided to anchor his ships for repair and maintenance. However, on the 8th, six Portuguese ships, the Inconquistável (frigate), the Indiana (brig), the Belisário (brig), the Conceição (brig), the São Miguel (brig), and the Princesa Carlota (brig), under the command of artillery captain José Pinto Alcoforado de Azevedo e Sousa, blockaded Zheng Yi Sao and Zhang Bao within Tung Chung Bay. On the 20th, 93 ships from the provincial fleet joined the Portuguese in their blockade, commanded by Sun Quanmou.
The pirates made various attempts to counterattack and break the blockade, but were unsuccessful due to unfavorable wind conditions. On the 23rd, the pirates managed to capture one ship from the provincial fleet, and killed the 74 men aboard. The situation turned into a stalemate between the pirates and the joint Sino-Portuguese fleet. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Sun Quanmou converted 43 of his ships into fireships and set them adrift towards the pirates in Tung Chung Bay on the 28th. The pirates diverted the fireships, towed them on shore, extinguished the fire, and broke them up for firewood. It was at this point that the wind changed, and two of the fireships were blown back to the provincial fleet and ignited two of Sun's own ships. On the 29th, Zhang Bao and Zheng Yi Sao took full advantage of the wind, broke through the blockade, and escaped into the South China Sea. The provincial fleet lost 3 ships and at least 74 men, while the pirates lost no ships and only 40 men.
By the end of 1809, the tides were turning against Zheng Yi Sao and the Pirate Confederation. Guo Podai, leader of the Black Flag Fleet, refused to reinforce Zheng Yi Sao and Zhang Bao during the Battle of Tung Chung Bay, and later openly battled with Zhang Bao near Humen. On January 13, 1810, Guo Podai officially surrendered to the Viceroy of Liangguang, Bai Ling, and was rewarded with the rank of sublieutenant (把總).
The Portuguese and the British also officially joined in the fray. On September 15, 1809, the British country ship Mercury agreed to join 60 provincial warships in patrolling the inner passage of the Pearl River. On November 23, the Portuguese officially signed an agreement with Bai Ling that called for six Portuguese ships to join the Chinese provincial fleet on patrol between Humen and Macau for six months.
Bai Ling's policy of militia training and embargoes also enjoyed reasonable success in cutting off the pirates' supply lines. But it was all these reasons combined, plus the organizational limit of the Pirate Confederation, which was held together by a few charismatic leaders such as Zheng Yi Sao, Zhang Bao, and Guo Podai, that led Zheng Yi Sao to consider surrendering to the authorities in early 1810.
With Macau's Ouvidor (magistrate) Miguel José de Arriaga as mediator, Zheng Yi Sao, Zhang Bao, and Bai Ling officially met on Zhang Bao's flagship on February 21, 1810. The negotiations quickly broke down when Bai Ling refused Zheng Yi Sao and Zhang Bao's demand of retaining 5,000 subordinates and 80 ships for entering the salt trade and joining the anti-pirate campaign in western Guangdong. At the end of the day, ten British Indiamen sailed past the pirate fleet and alarmed Zhang Bao, who suspected some sort of Sino-European trap and quickly retreated.
On April 17, Zheng Yi Sao, wanting to break the deadlock, personally led a delegation of 17 women and children to the Yamen at Guangzhou and negotiated with Bai Ling, where he yielded to her demands. On April 20, 1810, Zheng Yi Sao and Zhang Bao officially surrendered to Bai Ling near Furongsha (芙蓉沙, near present day Guzaiwan 古仔湾) with 17,318 pirates, 226 ships, 1,315 cannons, and 2,798 assorted weapons. Zheng Yi Sao surrendered with 24 ships and 1,433 pirates under her personal command. Zhang Bao was awarded the rank of lieutenant (千總), and was allowed to retain a private fleet of 20-30 ships. Zheng Yi Sao was also given permission to officially marry Zhang Bao. Zheng Yi Sao and her crews were pardoned, and the men received pork, wine and money.
Life after piracy and death
After surrendering, Zhang Bao would further distinguish himself by defeating the Blue Flag Fleet under Wu Shi'er (烏石二) near the Leizhou Peninsula. Zhang Bao, with Zheng Yi Sao accompanying him, would later be transferred to Min'an, Fujian, where Zheng Yi Sao would give birth to a son, Zhang Yulin, in 1813 (張玉麟).
In 1822, Zhang Bao, aged 36, died near Penghu while serving as a colonel (副將) in charge of the Penghu garrison. In 1824, Zheng Yi Sao returned to Guangdong with Zhang Yulin. In 1840, while living at Nanhai, Zheng Yi Sao filed charges against a government official, Wu Yaonan (伍耀南), for having embezzled 28,000 taels of silver that Zhang Bao had handed over to him in 1810 for the purchase of an estate. The Viceroy of Liangguang at the time, Lin Zexu, petitioned the emperor to dismiss the case, which he did.
In 1844, Zheng Yi Sao died at the age of 68-69, having led a relatively peaceful life after the death of her second husband, as the proprietor of an infamous gambling house somewhere around Guangdong.
Zheng Yi Sao's codes that were used to compounded the bureaucratization of the confederation:
- Anyone caught giving commands on their own or disobeying a command from a superior is to be immediately decapitated.
- Pilfering from common treasury or public fund and or stealing from villagers who supplied the pirates were capital offences.
- No pirate could retain any good before inspection.
- Goods had to be registered and then distributed by the fleet leader.
- 20% of the booty is to be returned to the original captor and the remainder was placed in a joint treasury or storehouse.
- Currency was to be handed over to the squadron leader, part was turned over to the fleet, a bit back to the captor.
- If any pirate goes privately on shore, he shall be taken, his ears mutilated, he will be paraded around the fleet and executed.
- Not the least thing shall be taken privately from the stolen and plundered goods, all shall be registered. The pirate receives for himself, out of ten parts, only two; eight parts belong to the storehouse, called the general fund; those who steal anything out of this general fund, shall be executed.
- Women captured from villages shall not be harmed or harassed. All women captives shall be registered, their place of origin recorded, and be given separate quarters. Those who rape or commit adultery with the women captives shall be executed.
The three codes and the fact that Zhang Bao was the author of the codes were recorded in Jing hai fen ji (靖海氛記), an account of the Pirate Confederation by Qing official Yuan Yonglun (袁永綸) based on first-hand testimonies. The misattribution of the codes to Zheng Yi Sao most likely originated from Philip Gosse's The History of Piracy, first published in 1932, in which he claimed Zheng Yi Sao to have drawn up "a code of rules for her crews which somewhat resembled those subscribed to by earlier European pirates." Gosse claimed to have based the story of Zheng Yi Sao on a translation of Jing hai fen ji by Charles F. Neumann in History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807 to 1810 published in 1831, which in itself contains numerous translation errors. Regardless, it seems like Gosse was primarily interested in a sensationalized account of Zheng Yi Sao, as he claimed in The History of Piracy that "the original (Jing hai fen ji), published in Canton in 1830, is chiefly devoted to the exploits of one pirate, and that a woman," while Jin hai fen ji contains significantly more mentions of Zhang Bao (88) than Zheng Yi Sao (25).
A semi-fictionalized account of Zheng Yi Sao, based on Philip Gosse's The History of Piracy, appeared in Jorge Luis Borges' short story The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate (part of A Universal History of Infamy (1935)), where she is described as "a lady pirate who operated in Asian waters, all the way from the Yellow Sea to the rivers of the Annam coast", and who, after surrendering to the imperial forces, is pardoned and allowed to live the rest of her life as an opium smuggler. In the story, Borges repeated the false claim that the pirate codes were issued by Zheng Yi Sao.
Arts, entertainment, and media
- Singing Behind Screens (2003), directed by Ermanno Olmi, is loosely based on Jorge Luis Borges' short story The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), directed by Gore Verbinski, featured a character played by Takayo Fischer named Mistress Ching that is loosely based on Zheng Yi Sao.
- The short story The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate in A Universal History of Infamy (1935) by Jorge Luis Borges is loosely based on Zheng Yi Sao's life.
- In The Wake of the Lorelei Lee (2012), book 8 of L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series, the character Cheng Shih is based on Zheng Yi Sao.
- The Flower Boat Girl (2021) by Larry Feign is a fictional novel based closely on the life of Zheng Yi Sao, incorporating historical research done by the author.
- The science fiction novel Mickey7 (2022), by Edward Ashton, refers to the first interstellar human colonial mission as having departed on a ship named the Ching Shih. A film adaptation of the novel, directed by Bong Joon-Ho, has been reported to be Bong's next project.
Manga / Graphic Novels
- In chapter 15 of Codename: Sailor V (November 1997), a manga created by Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor V transforms temporarily into Zheng Yi Sao.
- Afterlife (2006) is a OEL graphic novel that depicts Zheng Yi Sao as a guardian who fights demons to protect the denizens of the underworld.
- In chapter 60 of Worn and Torn Newbie, a Korean webtoon, a female pirate captain appears as Ching Shih.
- In Captain of Destiny (2015), a Hong Kong television drama, Maggie Shiu plays Shek Kiu (石嬌), who is based on Zheng Yi Sao.
- Zheng Yi Sao is portrayed by Crystal Yu in the 2022 Doctor Who special "Legend of the Sea Devils".
- An episode of BBC Sounds podcast You're Dead To Me focuses on Zheng Yi Sao. Host Greg Jenner is joined by Ria Lina and Prof. Ronald C. Po.
- The song "Bloody Rose of China" by The Jolly Rogers tells the story of her life, or a version thereof.
- Murray 1987, p. 71.
- Murray 1987, p. 143.
- Wang 2019, p. 85.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 10, U5b.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 10, U5a.
- Murray 2001, p. 258.
- Zheng 1998, p. 309.
- Banerji, Urvija (6 April 2016). "The Chinese Female Pirate Who Commanded 80,000 Outlaws". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 18 May 2021.
- "History's greatest woman pirate becomes a Hong Kong children's story". South China Morning Post. 28 February 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2021.
- Ye 2012, p. 74.
- Murray 1987, p. 65.
- Murray 1987, p. 63-65.
- Buttinger 1970, p. 241.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 9, U2b.
- Murray 1981, p. 149.
- Murray 1987, p. 57-59.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 9-10, U3a-U3b.
- Murray 1987, p. 64.
- Murray 1987, p. 67.
- Wen 1850, p. 3.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 10-11, U7a-U9b.
- Murray 1987, p. 121.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 11, U10a-U11b.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 10, U13b.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 12, U14b.
- Murray 1987, p. 126-128.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 13, U19a-U20b.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 14, L1a.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 14, L3b.
- Murray 1987, p. 132.
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- Glasspoole 1812, p. 36.
- Monteiro 2013, p. 37.
- Glasspoole 1812, p. 36-37.
- Murray 1987, p. 134.
- Glasspoole 1812, p. 37-38.
- Murray 1987, p. 135-136.
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- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 16, L13b.
- Murray 1987, p. 123.
- Murray 1987, p. 147.
- Murray 1987, p. 141.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 17, L18a-L19a.
- Siu & Puk 2007, p. 18, L21b.
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- Ye 2012, p. 73-75.
- Murray 1987, p. 149.
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- MacKay, Joseph (2013). "Pirate Nations: Maritime Pirates as Escape Societies in Late Imperial China". Social Science History. 37 (4): 551–573. ISSN 0145-5532. JSTOR 24573942.
- Original quote in Chinese: 一、私逃上岸者，謂之反關，捉回插耳，刑示各船。 遍遊後，立殺。一、凡搶奪貨物，不得私留，寸縷必盡出眾點閱；以二分歸搶者，以八分歸庫。歸庫後謂之公項，有私竊公項者，立殺。一、到村落擄掠婦女，下船後，一概不許污辱。詢籍注簿，隔艙分住。有犯強奸、私合者，立殺。
- Gosse 2007, p. 272-273.
- Wang 2019, p. 83.
- Gosse 2007, p. 271.
- Wang 2019, p. 86.
- Borges 1985, p. 49.
- Borges 1985, p. 44-45.
- Wang 2019, p. 92.
- "Angy Eiter Completes 5.15b First Ascent (Story + Photo Gallery)". Climbing. 17 December 2020. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
- Olmi, Ermanno (24 October 2003), Cantando dietro i paraventi (Drama, History, Music, War), Bud Spencer, Jun Ichikawa, Sally Ming Zeo Ni, Camillo Grassi, Cinemaundici, Rai Cinema, Lakeshore Entertainment, retrieved 17 April 2021
- Blumberg-Kason, Susan (15 March 2021). ""The Flower Boat Girl" by Larry Feign". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
- Montgomery, Laszlo. "Larry Feign on The Pirate Queen Zheng Yi Sao". China History Podcast. Teacup Media. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
- "Robert Pattinson, Bong Joon Ho team for Mickey 7 adaptation". Moviehole. 20 January 2022. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
- Jeffery, Morgan (1 January 2022). "The Sea Devils will return to Doctor Who in Spring 2022 special". Radio Times. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
- "You're Dead To Me - Zheng Yi Sao - BBC Sounds". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
- "For Honor's Newest Hero Brings Piracy To Heathmoor". news.ubisoft.com. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
- "The Bloody Rose of China". www.youtube.com. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
- Borges, Jorge L. (1985). A Universal History of Infamy. Translated by di Giovanni, Norman T. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140085396.
- Buttinger, Joseph (1970). Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam. New York: Praeger. ISBN 9780813371047.
- Monteiro, Saturnino (2013). Portuguese Sea Battles Volume VIII: Downfall of the Empire 1808-1975. Translated by Mesquita, Carlos W. Lisbon: Saturnino Monteiro. ISBN 9789899683679.
- Murray, Dian H. (1981). "One Woman's Rise to Power: Cheng I's Wife and the Pirates". Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques. 8 (3): 147–161. JSTOR 41298765 – via JSTOR.
- Murray, Dian H. (1987). Pirates of the South China Coast, 1790-1810. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804713764.
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- Glasspoole, Richard (1812). "To the President of the English Company's Factory, Canton". Further Statement of the Ladrones on the Coast of China: Intended as a Continuation of the Accounts Published by Mr. Dalrymple. London: Lane, Darling, and Co. pp. 33–39.
- Gosse, Philip (2007). The History of Piracy. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 9780486461830.
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- Wang, Ke (June 2019). "事实与虚构中的郑一嫂：一个女海盗形象在中西语境中的流变" [Zheng Yi Sao in Fact and Fiction: The Transformation of a Female Pirate in Chinese and Western Context]. Comparative Literature and Transcultural Studies. 3 (1): 82–129 – via CNKI.
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- Ye, Lingfeng (2012). 张保仔的传说和真相 [The Myths and Truths of Zhang Bao the Kid]. Nanchang, Jiangxi: 江西教育出版社. ISBN 9787539264929.
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