Standing outside of a soup stand, a man and woman talk in 'Our Flag Means Death.'

‘Our Flag Means Death’ Enlists History’s Most Prolific Pirate

Yas queen.

Our Flag Means Death has returned for season 2. Not only do we get to catch up with all the characters we fell in love with last season, but we get to meet a bunch of new ones, too. At the end of the first season, the crew had been split up—some were with Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and some ended up in a depressing mess with Ed/Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). Although they may not agree, the people with Stede are faring a little better. They got to hang out with Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones) and her 20 husbands. Oluwande (Samson Kayo) even made friends with a lovely soup merchant, Susan (Rubio Qian).

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But things go south between Stede’s crew and Spanish Jackie and Susan steps in to save them. After leaving with Susan and her assistant, the crew soon finds that the women aren’t simple soup merchants. Susan is in fact a pirate queen named Zheng Yi Sao. Like Stede and Ed, Zheng Yi Sao is based on a real historical figure.

Spoilers ahoy for Our Flag Means Death season 2!

Who is Zheng Yi Sao?

In season 2 of OFMD, Zheng Yi Sao is a hilarious new addition to the cast. She’s got a fleet of ships run by her first mate, Auntie (Anapela Polataivao). Plus, there is a crew of women who work together seamlessly. After conquering China, Zheng Yi Sao made her way to the Caribbean—if some of those bumbling pirate dudes can do it, she could make a killing. Instead of taking out rival pirate captains completely, she commandeers their ships, talks to them, and then enlists them as part of her fleet. It’s a smart business plan.

Two women strategiez over a map in 'Our Flag Means Death.'

The real Zheng Yi Sao, also known as Ching Shih, sailed the seas around China from about 1801 to 1810. (This was much later than when OFMD takes place, as the real Blackbeard and Stede died in 1718.) Zheng Yi Sao married the pirate Zheng Yi in her mid-twenties; he died only a few years into the marriage. Supported by her husband’s adoptive son, Zhang Bao (who became her lover), Zheng Yi Sao took over the small fleet. Zheng Yi Sao and Zhang Bao expanded their Pirate Confederation until it may have rivaled the Chinese Navy.

The best part of Zheng Yi Sao’s pirate story is how it ended. Taking a group of women and children with her, Zheng Yi Sao negotiated her surrender with the Chinese government. After ensuring all their people had pardons, the pirate duo surrendered their ships. Allegedly, Zheng Yi Sao had over 200 ships under her personal command. Following years of pirating, Zheng Yi Sao decided to roam free, and lived to be in her late sixties. Some have claimed other pirates were wealthier than Zheng Yi Sao, but no one matched the size of her fleet or the number of her followers.

Zheng Yi Sao was more than just a pirate, she was their queen.

(featured image: Max)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.