Throughout history, Vietnamese women have been instrumental in resisting foreign domination. The most well-known of these heroines are the Trung sisters, who led the first national uprising against their Chinese conquerors in 40 AD. Their courageous spirit has served as an inspiration to the people of Vietnam for nearly two thousand years and their legacy remains firmly embedded in the culture and national identity of the country to this day. 

The Trung sisters ride elephants into battle in this Đông Hồ style painting. (Public domain)

The Trung sisters ride elephants into battle in this Đông Hồ style painting. ( Public domain )

Who Were the Trung Sisters?

Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, known as the Trung sisters, were born sometime around the year 12 AD to a powerful lord in Giao Chỉ province in what is now northern Vietnam. Their actual birthdates are unknown, although Trắc was the older of the sisters. During the era in which the sisters were born, all of Vietnam was under the control of the Chinese Han Dynasty .

While Chinese women at the time had few privileges and were taught to be subservient, Vietnamese women inherited many rights through their mothers’ lineages. The Trung sisters grew up in a household where they studied the art of warfare, learned fighting skills , and were well-versed in martial arts . Trưng Trắc eventually fell in love with and married a man named Thi Sách.

Representation of the The Trung Sisters. (Taobabe)

Representation of the The Trung Sisters. ( Taobabe)

Vietnamese Resistance to Chinese Control

The Vietnamese did not actively oppose the Chinese until around 39 AD, when they began to feel oppressed by the Chinese. Thi Sách made a stand against the Chinese to oppose increasing taxes. To regain control over the Vietnamese, and to punish Thi Sách for his rebellion, a Chinese commander murdered him and raped Trưng Trắc.

The Chinese believed this would incite fear among the Vietnamese, and push them back into submission, but instead, it led to a Vietnamese revolution against the Chinese. The Chinese would have expected a new widow to go into isolation to grieve the loss of her husband. However, Trưng Trắc’s devastation led her and her sister down a revolutionary path to avenge Thi Sách’s death and to oppose the Han Dynasty ’s oppressive rule.

The Trung Sisters. (DeeDraws / DeviantArt)

The Trung Sisters. ( DeeDraws / DeviantArt )

The Trung Sisters and Opposition to Han Dynasty Oppression

The Trung sisters rallied supporters – many of whom were women – to fight against the Chinese. Their army was composed of approximately 80,000 men and women, with 36 female generals, including their mother. The Trung sisters rode into battle upon the backs of elephants, and within a few months their forces overtook more than 65 citadels from Chinese control.

As a result, the Trung sisters became queens of their new Vietnamese kingdom. As the rulers, they abolished the Chinese tax, and tried to restore a kingdom that followed traditional Vietnamese values. For more than three years, the Chinese fought to retake control of Vietnam, but the Trung sisters’ forces fought them off and retained control until 43 AD.

Statue of the Trung sisters in the Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. (Public domain)

Statue of the Trung sisters in the Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. ( Public domain )

Honor Through Suicide: The Inevitable Defeat of the Vietnamese

Eventually, attacks from the powerful Han forces became too great for the Trung sisters and they knew defeat was inevitable. Rather than accept their downfall, the sisters followed an ancient Vietnamese tradition of committing suicide to retain their honor, rather than be slain or captured by the enemy. Some accounts claim the sisters drowned themselves in a river, while others say they simply vanished into the clouds, as the Chinese regained control.

To this day, the Trung sisters are revered as heroes in Vietnam for having sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their people. Temples are dedicated in their honor, including the Hai Bà Trưng Temple in Hanoi near Hoàn Kiếm Lake, and temples found at Mê Linh District (Vĩnh Phúc Province), Phúc Thọ District (Hà Tây) and Hoàng Hoa Thám Street, Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

There are even statues erected in their memory. The country of Vietnam celebrates the Trung sisters in a yearly day of remembrance, which occurs in February of each year. Additionally, their names live on throughout Vietnam, with many streets and schools named after the sisters. They are remembered for their leadership, fighting skills, and courage, as well as their dedication to the preservation of the Vietnamese culture, and they have joined the ranks of famed warrior women from throughout history.

Top image: Composite image of the Trung sisters. Source: warmtail / Adobe Stock

By M. R. Reese



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