Six miles off the southwestern coast of Hong Kong Island is a piece of rock smaller than New York’s Central Park. Shaped like a dumbbell, Cheung Chau – or literally Long Island in Cantonese – was once a strategic hideout for ferocious pirates who ruled the Canton coasts.
At the turn of the 19th Century, these pirates of the South China Sea, our very Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook, terrorized seafarers and threatened the Qing court. The most prominent of them all, Cheung Po Tsai (張保仔), famously bisexual and captain of a vast and formidable fleet, was a staple among local legends. With all the eye makeup and flailing hand gestures, Johnny Depp might have had a certain Chinese pirate in mind when he crafted his character.
|Aerial view of Cheung Chau
Cheung Po Tsai was only 21 years old when he took over the pirating business from his adoptive parents. During the short period between 1807 and 1810 – the year he capitulated to the Qing court and became an imperial navy colonel, Cheung pillaged and plundered towns and villages along the Canton coastal area, including Hong Kong and Macau. At the pinnacle of his pirating career...
Read the rest of this essay in No City for Slow Men, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.
|No City for Slow Men