I Sailed with Chinese Pirates
by Aleko E. Lilius
Lilius's account was first published by J.W. Arrowsmith in 1930, and reprinted as an Oxford University Press paperback in 1991. His portrait in pp.38-57 of the female pirate Lai Choi San must give any reader of Arthur Ransome pause for thought. Did AR know Lilius's book, or know of the legendary Chinese pirate who appears in it, and if so was Missee Lee, in part, modelled on Lai Choi San? I leave it to you to work out the similarities, and also the differences, between the two female Chinese pirates, the one real and the other fictional. Something to bear in mind is that Lai Choi San was not the only real-life female Chinese pirate of note. For example there was in the early 19th Century the notorious Cheng I Sao ('Wife of Cheng I") who commanded a pirate federation that terrorised the South China coast.
Whatever Lilius's influence may have been on Ransome, his account was evidently a hit with Milton Caniff, the author of Terry and the Pirates, a popular comic strip of the 1930's, who used a glamourised version of Lai Choi San, The Dragon Lady, as one of his main villains.
Since placing this page on the Web I have heard from Lilius's son Eric Lilius, who tells me that his father tried, unsuccessfully, to sue the publishers of the comic strip for breach of copyright. After a life of adventuring (see, for example, Turbulent Tangier of 1956) Aleko retired to, and died in, his native Finland. I am very grateful to Eric Lilius for his permission to continue to use this extract from his father's book on the Arthur Ransome Website.
For those who are interested, I have placed a short note at the end of the extract on the Chinese text on the left (click on the text to see an alternative version by another calligrapher).
Here was I, an American journalist, getting the chance of a lifetime, to sail with Chinese pirates to the central nest of the most merciless gang of high-seas robbers in the world, in an armoured junk commanded by a female pirate. Small wonder that I could hardly believe in my luck.
What a woman she was! Rather slender and short, her hair jet black, with jade pins gleaming in the knot at the neck, her ear-rings and bracelets of the same precious apple-green stone. She was exquisitely dressed in a white satin robe fastened with green jade buttons, and green silk slippers. She wore a few plain gold rings on her left hand; her right hand was unadorned. Her face and dark eyes were intelligent – not too Chinese, although purely Mongolian, of course – and rather hard. She was probably not yet forty.
Every move she made and every word she spoke told plainly that she expected to be obeyed, and as I had occasion to learn later, she was obeyed.
What a character she must be! What a wealth of material for a novelist or journalist! Merely to write her biography would be to produce a tale of adventure such as few people dream of.
That evening I heard from an American who had sailed the waters around Macao for fifteen years the following story about this remarkable woman:–
"Her name is Lai Choi San. So many stories centre about her that it is almost impossible to tell where truth ends and legend begins. As a matter of fact, she might be described as a female Chinese version of Robin Hood. They have much in common. Undoubtedly she is the Queen of the Macao pirates. I have never seen her. I have almost doubted her existence until you told me of meeting her. She is said to have inherited the business and the ships from her father, after the old man had gone to his ancestors 'with his slippers on' during a glorious fight between his men and a rival gang. The authorities had given him some sort of refuge here in Macao, with the secret understanding that he and his gang should protect the colony's enormous fishing fleets and do general police duty on the high seas. He even obtained the title of Inspector from somebody in authority, and that, of course, placed him morally far above the other pirate gangs.
"He owned seven fully-armoured junks when he died. To-day Lai Choi San owns twelve junks; nobody seems to know how or when she acquired the additional five, but it is certain that she has them. She has barrels of money, and her will is law.
"You may ask," he continued, " why I call them pirates, since their job is only to 'guard' the numerous fishing craft. However, the other gangs want the same privileges as the present 'inspectors' have, therefore they harass and plunder any ship or village they can lay their hands upon. They kidnap men, women and children, hold them for ransom, ransack their homes and burn their junks and sampans. It is up to the protectors to undo the work of these others and to avenge any wrong done them. Naturally, there is bitter and continuous warfare between these gangs.
"This avenging business is where the piratical characteristics of the 'protectors' come in. There is frequent and profitable avenging going on wherever the various gangs meet. Lai Choi San is supposed to be the worst of them all; she is said to be both ruthless and cruel. When her ships are merely doing patrol duty she does not bother to accompany them, but when she goes out 'on business' she attends to it personally. When she climbs aboard any of her ships there is an ill-wind blowing for someone."
An orange-coloured haze hung over the hills of Lappa. Slowly the brown sails of our ship crept up, while the barefooted crew scurried back and forth upon the decks. Finally the junk was clear to heave away.
On a nearby junk a Taoist priest in demon-red robes kowtowed and burned fire crackers to his special deity in order to drive away the evil spirits – all this for a few cents silver.
I was dazed! It was difficult to believe in my luck. At last I was actually tramping the deck of an honest-to-goodness pirate ship!
Our junk lay hidden among many other similar craft. It would have been impossible to pick it out from the shore, and I wondered how the captain would manoeuvre us out from such a crowded jumble of boats. But I did not remain in ignorance long. Members of the crew lowered a dinghy, rowed out some distance, and dropped an anchor. Then the dinghy returned, and all hands hauled upon the anchor line until the junk began to move slowly forward. Then the manoeuvre was repeated until we had worked ourselves out into the open water. Hardly a sound was to be heard on board – only the shuffling feet of the crew.
I took a look at the crew. Here in South China I had been used to small, narrow-cheated, almost effeminate men; but these fellows were almost giants – muscular, heavy-chested, half-naked, hard-looking – real bandit types. Some of them wore the wide-brimmed hat such as one sees all over Southern China. Some had tied red kerchiefs around their heads and necks.
There was nothing for me to do but climb up on the poop and make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I felt in the mood to do just that too – a white man, an intruder, searching for unusual "copy." What right, after all, had I to pry into their secrets? I was not a Secret Service man, nor a Government employee, whose business it was to find out all about these pirate clans; yet that was slight assurance that I should return unharmed.
My boy, Moon, did not venture any comments. I believe he was fully as dazed as his master. Still, he was loyal enough to hang on at the rate of $1.00 Mex. per day. No European servant would have done it.
There were twelve smooth-bore, medieval-looking cannons on board, and two rather modern ones. Along the bulwarks of the junk were bolted rows of heavy iron plates. The ammunition, both powder and shot, was kept amidships, the heavier shot being stored in a magazine just abaft the foremast. Rifles and pistols were kept in a separate cabin on the poop, next to the captain's quarters.
We glided out into midstream.
The rays of the sun had begun to penetrate the haze, and a slight breeze filled the sails. In a few minutes we were outside Macao Harbour, and the heavy camouflaging plates were lifted away from the sides of the ship and placed along the deck. The crew pushed the guns forward, and we became a pirate ship, with rows of ugly, grinning cannons along her sides and a crew which – so help me, gods! – I should not have liked to command.
We hailed a boat, or rather a boat hailed us. The junk hove to and we came almost to a standstill; then the boat approached us and three women boarded the ship.
One of them I recognized as Lai Choi San. But what a different Lai Choi San ! Yesterday I had seen her in a white satin robe, with green jade ornaments; to-day she was entirely transformed. Now she wore a jacket-like blouse and black trousers made of the strong, glossy material commonly used by coolies for garments. Her two amahs were dressed in similar fashion.
As soon as she stepped on board she kicked off her slippers, and for the rest of the voyage padded about bare-footed. No greetings were exchanged. After a few curt words to the captain, Lai Choi San, with a gesture of her hand, dismissed the boat which had brought her to the ship, and the junk swung out into the wind.
Lai Choi San went straight up to her cabin on the poop. This cabin was about as large as an ordinary grand piano box. One could not have stood upright in it; even when squatting there was scarcely head-room. However, the interior was lavishly decorated with intricate hardwood carvings, embellished here and there with dashes of bright colour. A tiny image of the Goddess A-Ma, the patroness of all seafaring people, hung against the wall next to a small ancestral tablet bearing the name of Lai Choi San's father.
Through the open door I saw her take an incense stick, light it, and thrust it into a pewter vase in front of the tablet. Then she emerged, her two amahs following her.
As a matter of fact, those two amahs never left her presence.
Lai Choi San's favourite observation post was an empty packing-case on the top deck of the two-story poop; the two amahs squatted behind her. Her orders to the captain were given directly, or if he was too far away to hear to one of the amahs, who immediately jumped down from her monkey-like position and ran to fetch him. She never spoke to any of the crew, nor did the amahs. Occasionally the captain asked her something, and she always replied very curtly and almost haughtily.
After all, she did rule supreme. She was the owner of eleven other junks, all bristling with cannons, rifles and pistols. There were no machine-guns.
The haze had now disappeared altogether, but dark clouds were piling up on the horizon. It probably meant rain squalls and strong winds. The captain gazed in the direction of the approaching clouds, and, turning to me, said in pidgin-English: "Much lain, much wind come byebye, maybe go way."
In the meantime, right above us, the sun was shining brightly, and the air was very clear. Ideal weather for a photographer, and what a subject to photograph.
The moment Lai Choi San saw my magic box she rebelled. She gave an order to the captain, who approached and told me to put away the Kodak. That was where I rebelled.
I told him to go back to this pirate woman and tell her that since I was paying a good deal of money for the privilege of sailing with her I proposed to take as many pictures as I liked. If I was not to be allowed to do so, the whole trip would be a failure so far as I was concerned, and they might just as well put me ashore.
A hot half an hour of parleying followed, but finally she smiled graciously at me and I smiled back at her. I told Moon to go to her and ask if I might take her picture. I expected an outburst of indignation, but nothing like that happened. On the contrary, she agreed to pose. Oh, you inconsistent women!
Then the captain came, and with Moon interpreting we thoroughly discussed the problem of future photography on board the junk. In short, we agreed that I should not take pictures of anything of an incriminating nature. Incriminating nature! Could anything sound more unpromising to the ears of a journalist?
That same afternoon our adventures began.
The horizon was dotted with the black sails of myriads of junks composing the fishing-fleets. Behind and above them hovered those dark rain clouds which blew ever eastward but never reached us. We sailed to the leeward of an island and out of sight of the on-coming junks. Within an hour the first ships were in line with our island; then we emerged from our hiding-place.
Madame gave a sharp order. She had singled out a large black junk with three yellow sails gleaming brightly in the sunshine. We sailed towards this ship, which was apparently heavily laden with fish. As soon as the junk recognized us it turned and fled, but we rapidly overtook it. Our crew had brought out the rifles and had put on cartridge belts, and so had Madame and both of her amahs. When we were within hearing distance of the fleeing junk one of our men fired a rifle shot. I was certain that the junk would fight, and was already wondering where I might hide myself from bullets or other missiles which would soon be flying about our deck, but nothing occurred.
A second shot was fired, and the junk's mainsail came down. We sailed up and hove to a short distance from her.
Forgetting Madame's request that I refrain from taking photographs of an "incriminating nature," I was ready to "shoot" a real battle scene. Here again I was disappointed, because nothing really exciting happened. A man on the poop of the other junk shouted something through a megaphone. Our skipper yelled back at him in a volley of rapid Chinese which I could not understand. Then a dinghy was lowered from the other ship, and the "enemy" captain came over.
Long before he reached our ship we could see him gesticulating wildly, and as soon as he was within hearing distance he began to jabber away excitedly. He was highly nervous, and as soon as he came aboard us he was taken below to the captain's quarters. Quite a while afterwards he again appeared, smiling broadly, and soon he was returning to his ship. Apparently the business had been settled to the satisfaction of everyone concerned.
While all these incidents were taking place Madame had continued to sit with her two amahs at her observation post, silent and unmoved as though she were utterly oblivious of what was going on. Whether she did this deliberately in order to deceive the onlookers on board the other ship, or whether such an attitude was her "second nature," I am unable to say. However, judging from my later experiences while "adventuring" with her, I believe the latter to be the case.
The captain seemed highly pleased with the enemy's visit, and I wondered how much money it had netted him.
These formalities completed, we sailed away in search of new victims. Two more junks were chased in a like manner, but they struck sail immediately after the first signal shot was fired. Their captains paid similar visits to our ship, and each time the captain's smile became broader and broader. He was highly elated and even jocular.
Anxious to know what the profits of the day had been, I shouted: "Hey, captain, feeling top-side? Makee plentee money?"
And he replied: "Sure! Plentee money makee heart light." We spent the night at anchor to leeward of an island. One of the amahs lighted a bunch of incense sticks and placed them in various parts of the ship. This was a tribute to any gods who might have the power to send a happy ending to the day.
The trip thus far had been rather exciting; I was tired, and suddenly I realized that I was very hungry. Moon offered to fry a chicken, and I encouraged him to go and do so. Some of the men went away in the dinghy to spear fish by torchlight; I went with them, but soon returned to the ship – I was too hungry to stay away from the smell of that cooking chicken. Moon spread a napkin on the deck to serve as a tablecloth, and as if by magic he got hold of a number of European utensils – whence I never knew.
When I was ready to begin the feast Madame appeared, and I gallantly asked her to taste the chicken. She took both legs and most of the white meat, and declared that she liked it very much. She was a pirate all right! I whispered to Moon that, should the men return with a good catch, he was to grab most of it to retaliate for her greediness.
Shortly before daylight we weighed anchor and sailed off again. To the east and northward high mountains were turning blue, and a few scattered sails could be seen along the horizon to the south.
The captain invited me to have breakfast with him, and the crew gathered round, roaring at my ridiculous manoeuvres with the chopsticks. I should have remained hungry had not Madame ordered Moon to bring me my fork and spoon.
The women always dined separately from the men. The captain ate with the crew, and all fared alike.
About eleven o'clock we struck a calm. There was nothing for the crew to do but sit around and chatter, and so the captain and I had time to become friendly. He told me a great deal about Madame's business and her methods of procedure.
As an "inspector" it was her duty to sail from one fishing fleet to another and see that no harm should come to them from pirates. If a hostile junk was accosted it was the inspector's business to chase the pirate away and if necessary fight him, sink the ship, and capture the crew. Consequently, in order to be successful, she must be strong enough to hold her own with any kind of antagonists. This meant that the larger the ship and the more cannons it carried the better chance the inspector had to sit on the top of the piratical world.
Every junk had to pay tribute to the inspector. If it did not pay – why, occasionally accidents happened, and not infrequently did non-payers disappear. There were also other "inspector" junks hanging about and levying taxes on the fishing fleet when Madame was not around and thus the helpless fisherfolk usually paid tribute to several inspectors in order to prevent trouble. Lately, however, a few of these smaller fry had decided to consolidate themselves into a stronger fleet and drive Madame out of business. This, at least, was rumoured according to the captain.
Lai Choi San, being a good general, decided to stop all of these plans of her competitors while the stopping was easy. With a fair wind and barring accident, she hoped to reach an island that day where she knew several competing junks were harboured, and there talk matters over with the captains. Surely enough, within a few hours I had a wonderful occasion to witness Madame's rather unscrupulous methods of "talking matters over."
About noon a breeze sprang up, our sails filled, the mast creaked, the junk heeled over under the bellying canvas, and we sailed along steadily until we reached a hilly island heavily covered with vegetation. There, in a small bay, three junks rode at anchor. As soon as they sighted us two of them hoisted their sails and started to move away.
The captain rushed over to me.
"You go down!"
It was an order to go below. I refused; but a few husky, slant-eyed gentlemen closed in upon me and pushed me, not too gently, in the direction of the open hatch, by way of emphasizing the captain's unquestionable authority. So below I went, and a moment later Moon rolled down to keep me company. The pirates most assuredly meant business.
The cabin was dark. A few rays of light found their way through a crack in the closed hatch. We could hear the crew running up and down the deck and shouting. I wondered what was going to happen, and if there was going to be a battle. Suppose there should be an old-fashioned hand-to-hand encounter; in that case my position would not be enviable. I had the uncomfortable feeling that in the event of the ship foundering I should find myself trapped.
" Moon, what do you think is going to happen ? " I asked, more to hear his voice than in the hope of getting any reassuring information.
" No savee, master."
As he spoke the whole junk shook from a salvo from our guns. The noise was deafening.
Boom! There went another! And a third, a fourth, a fifth and a sixth! A regular hombardment – but there were no reply shots. The enemy probably never got a chance to fire back. It was indeed a one-sided affair.
The nauseous smell of burnt black powder reached us down below. Then I heard more shouting and many rifle shots, apparently fired by our own people. I realized that if the other junk should return our fire my prison would not be particularly safe. I lay down flat upon the deck, hiding my head behind the base of the mast. But there were no return shots from the attacked party.
After a while I sat up and tried, as calmly as possible, to talk Moon into believing that there was really no danger at all, and that our whole trip was a wonderful picnic. I was grateful for the fact that the cabin was too dark for him to see the expression on my face.
Still, we sat there for at least an hour, during which time we had an opportunity for some thinking, perhaps a bit of praying, and much swearing, all of which resulted in a sufficiency of resolutions to be good in the future.
Then the hatch was opened and I was allowed to come up on deck.
The first thing I saw was two men bound hand and foot. Some distance away to starboard I saw the sinking hull of the junk. Without asking permission I put my camera into vigorous action.
I saw on the poop Her Majesty, the Queen of Pirates, sitting on her throne-like box with her attendants behind her. They wore cartridge belts around their waists and held rifles in their hands, but, curiously enough, they offered no objection to posing for me in this piratical uniform.
I asked the captain who the two prisoners were. He replied with a snarl that they were the two captains with whom Madame had "talked matters over." Quite a forceful way of parleying, I thought; still, this was South China – and the Kingdom of the Pirates. I asked the captain if I might photograph the prisoners, and attend the execution in the event of their being shot.
Of course, I could take as many pictures as I liked, but those men would probably not be shot, he whispered. Most likely they would be exchanged for heavy cash. If you shoot an enemy there is always a lot of explaining to do, and all sorts of authorities and relatives to pacify; but if you keep him for a certain period bound hand and foot, and occasionally let him go hungry for a few days, cash is almost certain to be forthcoming. And there is practically no danger.
I asked him how he knew that the relatives would pay up. He smiled. In this case it was an easy matter; he would simply deliver the prisoners to their villages, and the townsmen would pay cold cash to the amount of several hundred dollars per head. Yes, this was a rather easy matter to handle. It was hardly a case of kidnapping. Sometimes when a messenger was sent to the relatives they did not believe that a prisoner was really being held for ransom; and sometimes, again, relatives did not care to ransom the prisoners, hoping against hope that the captive would be killed, and that they would inherit all his wealth. But those cases were rare. It was after the third or fourth demand for ransom money that the prisoner's ear, or a finger, or a hand was chopped off and delivered with a message that next time some other part of his body would accompany the chit. Finally, if the money was definitely refused – well – it was just bad luck for the poor victim.
A dinghy was lowered, the prisoners were helped to their feet, carried on board the dinghy, and then rowed away. I wanted to go with them, just to see what their fate would be, and to witness the actual bargaining over the ransom, but I was not allowed to do so. The captain himself was in command of the dinghy. When they returned a couple of hours later he wore a satisfied expression, and so did the crew. Later I actually saw the captain show Lai Choi San a fat roll of bills.
It was on this second day that Madame first permitted me to ask her a few questions. I believe that she had a hard time trying to overcome her distrust of me. Occasionally she had deigned to smile somewhere in my direction, but I had not once heard her laugh loudly until, quite unexpectedly, one of the large muzzle-loading cannons was accidentally discharged close behind me, and I jumped a few feet in the air, almost scared out of my wits. That was the only time that I saw her really merry.
The sea was getting rough and our junk began to pitch uncomfortably, though not enough to make me seasick. She wondered why, so I told her that I was used to the sea, having been reared in a country where there are thousands of lakes, and where every youngster is born practically a seaman. She wondered where that could be. I told her in Finland. She wanted to know where that country was – in America? So I drew a crude map of the world, and tried to describe as well as I could through my interpreter the shape of the earth and the whereabouts of "Melica, Inliss and Faranca" – respectively America, England and France. Slowly we crept up to such indescribable places as the Scandinavian countries, and finally we came to Finland. There, I said, on the opposite side of the earth, was the spot where I was born.
How far was it from Canton ? A two, three day sailing – with a fair wind?
Then and there I gave up for ever my career as a teacher of Chinese women pirates.
Presently she told me a little more about her early life.
Her father had had four sons, but they were all dead. She had been his only daughter, and being a frail and delicate child had not been expected to live. Her father used to take her with him on his trips along the coast, regarding her more as a servant than as a child of his own. And now she loved the sea.
The old man had started his life penniless, as a mere coolie, but he had had a remarkable career for all that. He had been a brave lad, and probably ruthless. He got into the good graces of a brigand chief, whose haunts were somewhere along the West River. This chieftain made him his Number One man, and when a few years later the old bandit died "unexpectedly" the Number One man proclaimed himself chief. And so he took possession of a few junks and went on the warpath against the neighbouring pirates, whom he drove out of their strongholds. Thus he became respected and feared among the seafaring merchantmen along the South China coast, made a goodly amount of money, and collected junks as one collects stamps or Chinese porcelain. He acquired a large fleet, but some of the ships foundered and some were burned by treacherous crews; but the fishing junks – several hundreds of them – each paid him a certain amount of money as long as he guaranteed that no other pirate would harass them in their lawful pursuit of livelihood.
When he died, with "his slippers on," from wounds received during the encounter which my friend, the American in Macao, had told me about, he left Lai Choi San seven ships, the strongest and largest on the waters of the West and Pearl Rivers. She also attested that she had "acquired" a few more, and that to-day she actually owns twelve large armoured junks.
She is rich, probably rich beyond comprehension. She owns a house in Macao which she occupies occasionally, but her home is in one of the villages on the West River.
"What do the words Lai Choi San mean? " I asked Moon.
He said that Madame would have to write down the characters of her name. He could not tell me unless he saw them. I asked her to write her name on a piece of paper.
She glared at me. I believe that she strongly suspected a trap, or some other devilry. She did not want to do it. Finally, I asked my interpreter whether he thought that she knew how to write. He translated this to her. The trick worked. Scorning to answer my question, she snatched the proffered pencil and laboriously wrote the three characters.
Lai Choi San, The Mountain of Wealth. Not an unfitting, although not exactly a feminine name. Still, her career was not very feminine either.
Had she no ambitions to settle down to a peaceful life ? I asked. Why did she continue this dangerous business ?
Moon translated the question, and she replied with a shrug. She probably could not think of an answer.
But I think I know it. The trade of buccaneering, in one form or another, is actually in the blood of the South China coast people. These hills, these rocky islands and waters, have for centuries been their territory, by right or might. When the plucky Portuguese arrived in the fifteenth century they immediately declared war on the brigands, and Macao was handed over to them by the Son of Heaven as a token of appreciation for what they did to suppress the activities of the marauders. The Chinese authorities, Imperial or Republican, have never been strong enough to cope with the situation, and the Portuguese of Macao, or the Hong-Kong British of to-day, cannot very well start any punitive expeditions of their own on foreign territory.
Would she not rather settle down and marry? Have children?
Moon for some reason made an attempt to wriggle out of this question. But I understood enough Cantonese to force him back into the right track, and stammering, he finally asked the question.
It did not seem to be a matter of etiquette with her. I had no idea at the time that she had been married twice, that her first husband had gone to his ancestors after a short and lively dispute over a trivial domestic matter – how and when I did not venture to ask her. Her second husband "had not been really her husband," she told me through Moon. But for all that, she had had many lovers.
Had she any children?
She certainly had, she said proudly. Two boys. One was in Shanghai, where a relative had put him in the school. This boy was the son of her first husband. He was twenty now, and a fine boy. He was going to marry the only daughter of the richest man in Shekki, a neighbouring town of Macao. The young people had been engaged since early childhood. There would be a wonderful wedding with a dragon procession, and all the presents would be carried on lacquered trays along the streets of the city. There would be many, many dollars' worth of fire-crackers burned, too, and she would give him rich gifts of money, and her house in Macao to live in.
Did she not want him to take up her own "trade"? I ventured to remark.
Oh, no! She wanted him to become a rich rice merchant and to go to Mei Kwo, which is Chinese for America, and see the wonderful country she had heard so much about. She had once seen in an old newspaper a picture of the fantastically tall buildings of a strange city, and someone had said that all the cities in Mei Kwo had similar buildings. She wanted him to go there, sell rice to the foreign people, and get himself a building like those she had seen in the paper. But she did not want him to sail up and down the rivers looking for loot, although if he stayed in Macao he could probably acquire the fan-tan concession there eventually. It would not be so bad, either.
But the second son? What about him?
He was a child yet, she said, only five years old. He was going to be a sailor all right. He was already in training on another of her junks. One day he was going to inherit all her ships and the "trade" He was a real little man, she explained, and a brave chap. He smoked like a man too. She did not want him to sail with her on her ship; it was better that he should stay away from his mother. But whenever the junks were in harbour at any of the islands she always had him brought over.
I had Moon ask her: Was this chap, too, the son of her first husband?
She admitted that he was not. He was a real love child.
I did not pursue the question farther.
It struck me that I should get her ideas on the eternal question of Love, a Chinese woman pirate's view of it.
This time Moon did not giggle or try to evade the question. He was keenly interested himself. But Madame would not answer. She gave a long, searching look first at Moon and then at me, realizing that I was the originator of the question. And then, for the first time, I read sadness in her eyes.
She did not answer my question.
A Note on the Chinese text
The six characters on the left give Lai Choi San her full title. They read, from the top, in standard Pinyin transcription (tone-marks shown as superscripts):
*There remains some dispute among my Chinese informants about the character for 'lai', as there are a number of possibilities.
nü3 female hai3 sea dao4 robber lai4 *(family name) cai2 (choi in Cantonese) wealth shan1 (san in Cantonese) mountain