Zheng Zhilong

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  • Died: 1661
  • Other Names: Nicholas Iquan
  • Chinese: 芝龍 (Zhèng Zhīlóng)

Zheng Zhilong was a prominent Chinese pirate (wakô leader) of the early 17th century, Ming loyalist, and father to Zheng Chenggong (aka Coxinga).

Zheng spent time in Macao in his youth, learning European languages and about Christianity, and eventually becoming a translator for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), while also becoming a member of a pirate gang led by Yan Siqi.

He established himself at Hirado beginning in 1624, marrying a Japanese woman to whom their son Zheng Chenggong was born.[1]

Zhilong became head of Yan's gang sometime after 1625, and began harrying wealthy merchants and government officials, as well as other Ming government targets. According to some accounts, he deliberately avoided bothering peasant villages, in order to develop a reputation of "robbing from the rich in order to champion the poor." As a result, he gained considerable followings among the common people. His pirate base at Amoy (Xiamen) is said to have been well-fortified, home to both Christian and Buddhist chapels, and guarded by a force of black slaves who had fled from the Portuguese on Macao. The inner living quarters were directly accessible by boat.[2]

Failing to stop Zheng on their own, or to organize an alliance with the Dutch to stop him, Ming officials instead appointed him to an imperial position in 1628, assigning him to patrol the seas and to attack (other) pirates. He reveled in the task, destroying many of his rival pirates, and began selling silks and other goods to the Dutch for silver. By 1637, he was a major power in the region, controlling extensive maritime trade networks and protection rackets. By this point, he had eliminated most if not all of his pirate competitors, connecting up trade routes from Korea down to the Straits of Malacca, and established bases of power in and around Taiwan, where he continued to harass the VOC. Of the nearly 100 ships which called at Hirado in 1641, thirteen were his.[1]

In 1646, Zheng Zhilong came to side with the Qing, and his son Zheng Chenggong inherited control of his operations, power, and networks. The Manchus hoped Zhilong could help end the pro-Ming resistance, and so kept him at Beijing for a time, but by 1661, he was still unable to convince his son to set down his arms, and so Zhilong was executed.[1]


  • Matt Matsuda, Pacific Worlds, University of Cambridge Press (2012), 108-109.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 26-27.
  2. Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 55.