Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Wa Shi

Episode Summary

Wa Shi (1498-1560) was a noblewoman and general who defended countless cities against a pirate scourge, leading a legendary battalion.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan, and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

In case you’re just tuning in, here’s the deal. Every weekday we’re telling the stories of women from throughout history and around the world who you may not know about, but definitely should. Each month is themed and this month we’ve been talking about warriors, women who stood up to fight for what they believed in. For some, that meant literally taking up arms. For others, that meant marching, writing or speaking up for the cause. 

Today we’re talking about a warrior who defended countless cities against a pirate scourge, with the help of a legendary battalion. Meet the noblewoman and general, Wa Shi.

Wa Shi was born in 1498 into southern China’s minority Zhuang people. Her father was a powerful nobleman of the Zhuang’s Cen clan, which had a long military tradition. Wa Shi’s noble blood kept her safe from going to war while she was growing up, but she eagerly studied military tactics. The Zhuang traditionally trained their women as warriors. 

Wa Shi married another nobleman named Cen Meng, and together they had a son.

In the mid 1520’s, Cen Meng rebelled against the Chinese government, endangering all of the Zhuang clans in the process. To maintain stability, Wa Shi’s father had Cen Meng killed. This left a power vacuum that Wa Shi filled. She took her late husband’s place as a local ruler and eventually became one of the most powerful Zhuang lords.

Over time, Wa Shi grew more involved with the broader Chinese government. In 1553, a band of pirates called the Wokou intensified raids along the country’s southern coast. China had been struggling with these particular pirates for centuries. The ruling dynasty was well aware of Wa Shi’s military prowess and appointed her to help defeat the raiders.

Wa Shi led an army thousands of miles to defend the city of Jinshanwei, or modern day Shanghai. In the process, she rescued a key government official from an ambush. Wa Shi went on to have several key victories.

Because of the Zhuang’s unique culture, Wa Shi’s infantry was one of the most skilled in the country. They were able to forage for food in conditions that would have caused other battalions to starve. They became known across the land as Wolf Soldiers.

Wa Shi was able to deal the pirates their first major defeat. She personally joined the fray, despite the fact she was nearly 60 at the time.

As the battle against the pirates continued, another war waged within China’s ruling class. A power quarrel ended with the death of the general who had recruited Wa Shi to fight. Wa Shi asked for permission to return home.

Wa Shi lived for another year before passing away in 1560. Without someone as skilled as Wa Shi to keep them in check, the pirates remained a regular threat for another 20 years. After her death, a local temple was built for Wa Shi’s spirit. It was maintained for centuries.

Wa Shi is among the most famous of the Zhuang women for her military genius and for the countless lives she saved. 

Join us tomorrow to learn about another legendary warrior.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!