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The Trung Sisters, Warrior Queens of Vietnam

30/03/2020 712 Views
The legend of the Trung sisters is known in Vietnam as the first insurrection against Chinese domination, when Vietnam became a Chinese protectorate under the name of Giao Chi.

The origins of the first period of Chinese domination


Throughout its history, Vietnam has changed its name many times, but has also had to fight countless times for its independence and the protection of its national identity.

From the Kingdom of Van Lang to the Kingdom of Au Lac

Vietnam’s origins are full of legends and are still uncertain.

The first kingdom of Vietnam, called Van Lang, prospered for about about a millennium, under the reign of the legendary dynasty of the 18 Hung kings. In 258 BC, however, King Thuc Phan of the Kingdom of Au Viet, in the north of Van Lang, launched an invasion that resulted in the destruction of Van Lang and the founding of the Kingdom of Au Lac.

It is only from this date that one can assert with almost historical certainty, the chronology of what will become, many years later, Vietnam of today.

From the Kingdom of Nam Viet to the Chinese protectorate

A few years later, the first emperor of the Chinese Qin dynasty, Qin Shi Huang, undertook the conquest of the Kingdom of Au Lac, to continue the expansion and unification of its territory.

The Qin dynasty, very important in the history of China, but relatively ephemeral (from 221 BC to 206 BC), falls with the death of the emperor Qin Er Shi (son of Qin Shi Huang) in 206 BC.

Upon the death of his emperor, Chinese general Zha Tuo (called Triệu Đà by the Vietnamese), who was originally sent by China to subdue the Vietnamese resistance, took advantage of the political unrest in his country of origin, to seize the Kingdom of Au Lac.

He then founded the Triệu dynasty and named his new kingdom Nam Viet.

Although Triǫu Đà adopted the customs of his new people and organized the administration of his kingdom effectively, Chinese influence was undeniable.

Forced to pay tribute to the Han Court in exchange for protection against foreign invasions, Nam Viet knew countless intrigues to try to keep its independence.

Of course, this kingdom, which occupied much of today’s southern China, was a target for the Han dynasty that had succeeded the Qin dynasty.

In 111 BC, Nam Viet was indeed invaded by its Chinese neighbour, who took advantage of the troubles between the heirs of Triệu Đà.

Under the pretext that members of the Chinese community in Nam Viet were killed during these troubles, Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty, decided to establish his power definitively to make Nam Viet a Chinese protectorate under the name of Giao Chi.

The Trung Sisters

During this period of Chinese protectorate, we can already note the pride and courage of the Vietnamese people, even though they were at the beginning of their history.

In fact, despite the many Chinese intellectuals and governors sent, the Vietnamese people resisted fiercely the introduction of Chinese literature, arts and agricultural techniques.

The story of the Trung Sisters began under the leadership of To Dinh, sent by China to govern Giao Chi. Known as cruel and merciless, he mistreated the people and tried to crush their culture.

In the south, in the district of Vo Giang, was born Thi Sach, future husband of Trung Trac, one of the Trung Sisters. He is described as:

Descended from the kings of Hùng and full of talents,
Seeing his exemplary life of righteousness and virtue, the people wanted him as their leader in order to improve the destiny of the country.
But being afraid of Tô Dinh cunning and cruel,
Thi Sach waited for the opportunity and hid his intentions

In the north, in the district of Me Linh, were born the Trung Sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi. They were the daughters of the prefect of the same district, who taught them martial arts and the art of war :

Beautiful flowers that butterflies and bees dared not offend.
The eldest was named Trac, the youngest Nhi
They were as gifted in letters as in military art;
Having strategic genius, they were still practicing armed combat,
Their training far exceeded any common measure
They excelled at handling all weapons without exception

Thi Sach married the first sister, Trung Trac, but was assassinated in 39 BC by the Chinese governor To Dinh, who had discovered his plans to revolt against Chinese domination. The assassination of Thi Sach was the trigger for the Trung Sisters' revolt. To take revenge, they gathered an army and won enough victories to proclaim themselves queens in 40 BC.

The victory of the Trung Sisters marked the end of the first period of Chinese domination.

Unfortunately, 3 years later, the Trung Sisters had to face Chinese general Ma Yuan, who came to subdue the rebellion.

Their army, made up mainly of women, was, according to legend, confused by the Chinese soldiers who fought by exposing their intimate parts to cause confusion and embarassment among their opponents.

Another legend praising the strength of the Trung Sisters' army, Phung Thi Chinh, a noble Vietnamese and captain in the Trung Army, gave birth in the battlefield but continued to fight with the baby in her arms.

However, faced with imminent defeat, the Trung Sisters died in 43 BC by throwing themselves into the Hat River.

Their defeat marked the beginning of the second period of Chinese domination (which, all periods combined, lasted more than 1,000 years).

This second period was even harder than the first one, since General Ma Yuan remained in charge and imposed Chinese culture and traditions, without any possible resistance.

The Trung Sisters in Vietnamese culture

The Trung Sisters are nationally regarded as heroines who exchanged their noble lives to become the instigators of the 1st insurrection against Chinese domination.

There are hundreds of temples in their honor and in the honor of their generals, who also entered the legend, including the first one, which was transferred in 1819 to Hanoi, Dong Nhan Street.

Trung Sisters day in Hue in 1952

Each year, the Trung Sisters Day is an important national event, celebrated between the 3rd and 5th day of the first lunar month.

A district in Hanoi bears their name, and there are countless streets and schools in the whole country named in the honor of the Trung Sisters.

Finally, the history and warrior strength of the Trung Sisters is such that some historians consider the existence of a Vietnamese society based on matriarchal power. 

The text quoted earlier in the article states:

But without support, like a tiger out of the forest, they were without strength,
They grieved that they were born in the weak sex and that they could not easily mobilize others

In short, History quickly contradicted this part of the text (which described the beginning of their lives), as the Trung Sisters transformed themselves into legendary avenging warrior queens who shaped the history of this proud and independent Vietnamese people.

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