The Trung Sisters
How they are kick ass:
- The Trưng sisters were born in a rural Vietnamese village, into a military family. Their father was a prefect of Mê Linh , therefore the sisters grew up in a house well-versed in the martial arts.
- Led the first successful first resistance movement against the occupying Chinese after 247 years of domination.
- In AD 39, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, after successfully repelling a small Chinese unit from their village, assembled a large army consisting mostly of women.
- Repelled the Chinese from Vietnam in AD 39.
- Ruled as joint queens and resisted attacks by the more powerful and numerous Chinese throughout their short reign.
- Most of their generals were female, including their mother and Phung Thi Chinh, who gave birth on the battlefield. With her baby in one arm, and a sword in the other, Phung Thi Chinh continued to fight the battle.
- Committed suicide rather than surrender and become prisoners. Became and remain national heroes of Vietnam.
- Even though the Trung Sisters’ revolt against the Chinese was almost 2,000 years ago, its legacy in Vietnam remains. The two sisters are considered to be a national symbol in Vietnam.
Celebrating International Women's History: The Trung Sisters of Vietnam
Our first post for International Women’s History Month!
Happy March everyone! March is a month chock full of events and activities. For the mathematicians, 3/14 is Pi Day. For the Irish and others who’ve adopted Ireland’s culture, 3/17 is St. Patrick’s Day. And for the literary enthusiasts out there, 3/15 marks the Ides of March, the date notoriously immortalized in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.
For us at the VNHELP office, we are happy to see March commemorated as International Women’s History Month. Why not take the opportunity to honor some of the celebrated women in Vietnamese culture through a “Women of Vietnam” series?
We’re kicking off the series with the Trung Sisters, better known to many Vietnamese as “Hai Bà Trưng.”
If you grew up in a Vietnamese household, then you are sure to have heard of the names of these two sisters floated before. If not, here’s your chance to be privy about two of the most celebrated figures in Vietnamese history.The Trung Sisters
The Trung sisters were Trac and Nhi Trung. They grew up during the first century, at a time when Vietnam was still under the domination of China’s Han dynasty, in a northern prefect called Me Linh. Their father, General Lac, was the leader of Me Linh, and made sure his daughters were well-versed in the martial arts.
Their story made it into the history books after the execution of Trac’s husband catalyzed a major revolt led by the sisters themselves. As many versions of the story have it, Trac’s husband, Thi Sac, had been the son of a neighboring prefect’s leader. Trac and Thi had an arranged marriage, but were blessed with a love-filled matrimony. Trac’s husband was kind and brave. When the Han leader of the region, To Dinh, began demanding excessive taxation from the Vietnamese, Thi Sac stood up to him. And for that, he was killed.
Trac was not one to sit by and let her husband die in vain. With her sister, she rounded up thousands of supporters and allies, rose up, and pushed back the Han colonizers. Trac and Nhi gained more supporters as they continued their campaign. It is said that people willingly followed the Trung Sisters’ lead because they were descendants of Lac Long Quan, the mythical father of all Vietnamese people, but truly it was their leadership skills that eventually helped them win back 65 cities from the Hans.
With their conquest, the Trung Sisters united the region and ruled as queens. They came to be known as Trưng Nữ Vương in Vietnamese.
But their reign was short-lived. Three years after installing themselves as queen, the Hans once again came back to challenge the Trung Sisters. This time, the sisters didn’t have enough forces to fend back the Hans this time because many of their allies had already returned home to regions far away. Eventually they were defeated, and some say the Sisters drowned themselves in a river so as to die honorable deaths.
It’s a tragic story in the end, yes, but the Trung Sisters’ story also represents resilience and courage to the people of Vietnam. To draw a comparison to a more well-known story from the Occident, they were like France’s Joan of Arc—times two. Prior to their uprising, Vietnam had been dominated by the Hans for 247 years without any leaders brave enough to stand up to oppression in such manner. The fact that it was two women who eventually took the charge made the story all the more inspiring. Some historians even use this story to suggest that Vietnam might have been a matriarchal society before the culture became steeped in Confucian traditions.
Today, the Trung Sisters continue to be honored throughout Vietnam. The image of two valiant women riding in on elephants adorns many artistic pieces, their names are used to name schools and public spaces, and their story serves as an inspiration to both women and men alike.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
from our blog at essential HELP
On the Trung Sisters' Defeat
“Their revolution was short lived however, as the Chinese gathered a huge expeditionary army under the veteran Marshal Ma Yuan to crush the native fighters. Legend has it that the Chinese army did this by going into battle unclothed. The enemy’s brazenness so shamed the Vietnamese female warriors that they fled the battle scene, leaving the weakened forces easily defeated by the Chinese. Phung Thi Chinh, a pregnant noble lady, was the captain of a group of soldiers who were to protect the centre of Nam Việt. She gave birth on the front line, and with her baby in one arm, and a sword in the other, continued to fight the battle.
Despite the many heroic efforts, the Trưng sisters realised that they had been defeated and that to fight further would mean death at the hands of the Chinese. Therefore to protect their honour, and to elude ridicule, the two queens committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Hát River in AD 43. Some of their loyal soldiers continued to fight to the death, whilst others committed suicide (including Phung Thi Chinh, who also took her newborn baby’s life). There is a story of one woman who would randomly charge through Chinese camps, screaming and slaying random men. Finally, after killing many more, she committed suicide in the hope of returning to her respected commanders.”
- Trung Sisters, Wikipedia article
The Trung Sisters
The Trung Sisters were born at a time when China’s Han dynasty ruled Vietnam. Daughters of a powerful lord, Trung Trac married Thi Sach, who also had amassed some power. Around the year 39, widespread animosity toward the Chinese rulers was growing. Thi Sach was executed by the Chinese as an example. In response, the Trung sisters organized an army of about 80,000 people. Within months, this army had expelled the Chinese from territory from Hue to Southern China. The Trung sisters were proclaimed co-queens of this area.
Eventually the Chinese army regrouped and retook the area in 43. Despite the short-lived freedom they helped bring about, the Trung sisters are celebrated as some of Vietnam’s most famous citizens.
The Trung Sisters Hai Bà Trưng
The Trưng sisters ride elephants into battle, Đông Hồ style painting
The Trưng sisters (c. 12 - AD 43) were leaders who rebelled against Chinese rule for three years, and are regarded as national heroines of Vietnam. Their names were Trưng Trắc (徵 側) and Trưng Nhị (徵 貳).
The sisters were born in Giao Chỉ in what is now Northern Vietnam. The dates of their births are unknown, but Trưng Trắc was older than Trưng Nhị. The exact dates of their deaths are also unknown but both died around AD 43.
The primary historical source for the sisters is the 5th Century Book of the Later Han compiled by historian Fan Ye, which covers the history of the Han Dynasty from 6 to 189AD. The secondary source, but primary popular source, is the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (Complete Annals of Đại Việt, chữ Hán: 大越史記全書) compiled by Ngô Sĩ Liên under the order of the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông and finished in 1479.
A statue of the Trung Sisters in Ho Chi Min city
The Trung sisters who led the first national uprising against the Chinese, who had conquered them, in the year 40 A.D. The Vietnamese had been suffering under the harsh rule of a Chinese governor called To Dinh. Some feel that if the sisters had not resisted the Chinese when they did, there would be no Vietnamese nation today.
“All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission;
Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country.”
15th century Poem