Lai Choi San

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Lai Choi San (Mountain of Wealth) was a 20th-century Chinese pirate. The only evidence of her existence is the book I Sailed With Pirates by Aleko Lilius, published in 1931.[1] She was claimed[by whom?] to be the most powerful and well-known female pirate leader in Chinese history, rivaled perhaps only by Cheng I Sao of the previous century[citation needed], commanding a fleet of some 12 junks in the area of Macao and the South China Sea during the 1920s and 30s. Though her fleet was based in South China Sea, she frequented the East China Sea and sometimes the Sulu Sea near Palawan

Lai Choi San was one of several pirates that Lilius claims to have traveled with during the late 1920s. Lilius describes her fleet as "twelve smooth-bore, medieval-looking cannons onboard, and two rather modern ones. Along the bulwarks of the junk were bolted rows of heavy iron plates". Her crew are referred to as ladrones by the Portuguese and, according to Lilius, were "all fearsome fellows, muscular bare-chested men who wore wide-brimmed hats and tied red kerchiefs around their necks and heads". Lai Choi San has been referred to as a female "Robin Hood" figure, however she and her crew were often paid protection money by local merchants[2] and operated with little interference from either Portuguese or Chinese authorities since inheriting the fleet from her father upon his death.[3]

Lai Choi San was the model for the Dragon Lady, one of the main villains which appeared in the comic, radio and television series Terry and the Pirates. The series creator Milton Caniff later claimed to have been inspired by reading a story about her. The character would heavily influence the stock character whose persona is usually portrayed as a beautiful yet cold-hearted villainess as seen in later popular culture. [4][5][6]


  1. Murray, Dian, "Cheng I Sao in fact and fiction" in Pennell, C.R. (editor) Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader. New York and London: New York University Press, 2001. (pg. 257) ISBN 0-8147-6678-1
  2. Levy, Daniel S.Two-Gun Cohen. New York: Macmillan, 2002. (pg. 165) ISBN 0-312-30931-7
  3. Pons, Philippe. Macao. London: Reaktion Books, 2002. (pg. 26) ISBN 1-86189-136-9
  4. Becker, Stephen D. Comic Art in America: A Social History of the Funnies, the Political Cartoons, Magazine Humor, Sporting Cartoons, and Animated Cartoons. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959. (pg. 255)
  5. Waugh, Coulton. The Comics. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. (pg. 47) ISBN 0-87805-499-5
  6. Kamalipour, Yahya R. and Theresa Carilli. Cultural Diversity and the U.S. Media. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1998. (pg. 26) ISBN 0-7914-3930-5

Further reading

  • Blackham, Robert James. Woman: In Honour and Dishonour. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., 1936.
  • Lintner, Bertil. Blood Brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2002. ISBN 1-86508-419-0
  • Lorimer, Sara. Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001. ISBN 0-8118-3237-6