When we think of pirates, usually Blackbeard if not Captain Jack Sparrow come to mind. Its no secret that modern culture has a flirtation with the pirate as an upholder of freedom, fortune and sometimes even democracy. In the English speaking world our perception of pirates is associated with the Golden Age of Piracy in European Exploration. Most of this activity occurred on America's cost and on nearby Caribbean islands thereby putting this kind of pirate into the culture of those areas. Golden teeth, brogue speak, parrot and all compose the cartoon image of any person remotely attached to "pirate".
Yet piracy was a way of life throughout the history of civilized peoples and came along with any overseas trade networks are ports. East Asia had a long tradition at least from the the first century A.D onward. From the 14th through 17th century bands of Wokou- pirates of mixed Japanese, Chinese and Korean origin plagued fishing villages and mighty cities alike. The emperors of China reacted in ways that would have confused Europeans, often choosing to shut down ports than to fight. European exploration did not put an end to Asian piracy.
While there were many great names in the business of "eastern piracy", most notably the woman Ching Shih who was bribed into retirement, this story is about a lesser known man. We start with the notorious king of the South China Sea- Limahong. From small beginnings in a fishing village he took the life of a career criminal, a cunning and inspiring leader he eventually raised a fleet of 100 junks. The Ming Chinese Dynasty tried and failed to bribe Limahong. The peasant turned criminal. and then admiral, told negotiators he aspired to be his own emperor.
With a high price on his head that would have drawn all fortune seekers he went to the Philippines with 3000 outlaw followers in 1574. The archipelago was Spain's youngest colony, Manila had been christened as the capital of the Spanish East Indies just three years prior.
Historically, upon the approach of Limahong, an obscure man from the new Manila called Galo rallied townspeople to defeat a numerically superior force. Buying time for Spanish to arrive and save Manila from the pirates, Limahong's ambition was not deterred and he took over another town in the Philippines called Linagyen. The Spanish and Filipino natives suddenly united besieged rte pirates. Eventually, Limahong escaped with his comrades through a canal into the South China Sea, history is not sure of their final destination or their fate.
However, let's think of the consequences of that fateful day if 1574 had a turned a different way. Spain may very well had lost its new colony to history, more importantly this could have opened a new window to many Chinese. The Ming Empire which tightly regulated shipping lanes and bureaucratic control in all parts of life the news of a successful Lima Hong could have set off a new era of piracy in Asian waters. For thousands of years Chinese as individuals had traveled abroad to the southern islands, now they would had set out for glory in riches- whether their government permitted them or not. What would the long term consequences of the Sea Dragons who would take their chances to the Pacific Ocean?
Point of Divergence
The Spaniard-Filipino Galo is weakened by illness and is unable to organize a defense of Manila. Lacking leadership, and suffering from inferior numbers, Manila's defenders could not hold off the pirates, if they fought at all. Limahong's pirates overran the city, and executed most of the Christians with the exception of a few that could serve as informants on the Spanish. Spanish relief forces headed by Juan de Salcedo that historically saved Manila would come too late. Salcedo would be driven away and die of malaria.
Historically, when Limahong built a fort at site called Linagyen, he forced all of the indigenous peoples to acknowledge him as king and pay him sums of tribute in whatever they had to give. This would certainly be the case after taking over Manila -on a larger scale. Manila itself would be fortified and rebuilt with pagodas.
The Ming Empire was put into a diplomatic debacle by Limahong's expedition to the Philippines. At the time Ming China had a no war policy with its neighbors. The dynasty - held in name by a boy emperor Wanli - was reluctant to chase Limahong down in what was once Spanish territory. Imperial hesitation gave Limahong time to consolidate his position and for young Cantonese men in the southern provinces to arrive in Philippines. Here came the dawn of the new Sea Dragons thrusting upon the world.
Many articles, including those about piracy as a historical trend in the page, will be written by a hypothetical character - Dr. Wong from Beijing writing hundreds of years past these events and revealing results of his research and analysis. Those written by Dr. Wong will be indicated at the top of the page. In time there may also be opponents to Dr. Wong's conclusions.
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