Balancing the Scales: “The Widow Ching—Pirate” by Jorge Luis Borges


The Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges looms large in my personal head cannon of favorite writers. Placed firmly at the center of a Venn diagram or more apropos, a Minotaur in his labyrinth, Borges’ influence has radiated out to a host innovative writers that I enjoy. I was introduced to Borges by the late speculative fiction master, Gene Wolfe, who held him in very high esteem. This was an opportunity for me to experience firsthand, the works of the writer who impacted (in my humble opinion) the best fantasist of the last four decades. I initially picked up from the library, the Hurley translation of A Universal History of Iniquity, and let me tell you, upon its completion, I was a goner. I then purchased his Collected Fictions and did a deep dive into the works of this modern day Daedalus.

Borges is the kind of writer that is simultaneously easily accessible (his tales are quite brief), and highly confounding. His works have a quality about them that are fundamentally disorienting to the reader; the David Lynch of letters. To experience this firsthand, I would gladly point you to his “The Library of Babel”, “The Aleph”, “The Book of Sand” or perhaps “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. In addition to the strange and oracular, the works of Borges are also preoccupied with the examination of the lives and times of several species of outlaw. One such examination is a favorite of mine that I keep returning to on a regular basis, “The Widow Ching-Pirate”.

This six page foray into historical piracy recounts the thirteen year career of the woman who commanded a fleet of six squadrons “from the Yellow Sea to the rivers on the borders of Annam”, during the early Nineteenth century. Upon the betrayal and murder of her husband, Captain Ching, for the sin of accepting the Emperor’s buy-off (the position of Master of the Royal Stables), the newly elected Widow Admiral broke all ties with the Emperor and the treacherous shareholders to begin a new life of unsanctioned, freelance buccaneering.  “The fleet was composed of six squadrons, each under its own banner-red, yellow green, black, purple- and one, the admirals own, with the emblem of the serpent. The commanders of the squadrons had such names as Bird and Stone, Scourge of the Eastern Sea, Jewel of the Whole Crew, Wave of Many Fishes and High Sun.” This new, intensified wave of rapine led the Widow and her fleet into a collision course with the forces of the Son of Heaven.

The Widow Ching, this “sapling thin woman of sleepy eyes and caries- riddled smile”, whose “oiled back hair shone brighter than her eyes”, is a magnetic figure who manifests a large degree of  individual agency. She is a dynamic personage, the archetypical wronged outlaw flipping the bird to the forces of indifferent (or perhaps corrupt) Authority. It is no wonder that the Widow has popped up in other works, in alternate guises. Wu Ao-Shi, the champion to take up the mantle of the Iron Fist, was also known as The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay (she appeared in Matt Fraction’s wonderful The Immortal Iron Fist issue number seven).  Writer Donald Jacob Uitvlugt’s Madam Hu, from his wuxia space opera short story, “The Tale of the White Tiger”, also bears a striking resemblance to the transcendent Widow. If the story, “The Widow Ching-Pirate” appeals to you, there are many other avenues for further exploration; the obvious next move is to jump headfirst down the Borges rabbit hole with his Collected Fictions. Outside of Borges, I would heartily recommend “The Tale of the White Tiger” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, Pearl S. Buck’s All Men Are Brothers and of course, Marvel’s Immortal Iron Fist; these three works fall squarely in the genre of Wuxia (albeit with some slight tweaks) and are certainly worth checking out.


“The Tale of the White Tiger” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt    (Cast of Wonders Podcast #168)

Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums.  His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.


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