When the enemy is at the gate, the woman goes out fighting
(Old Vietnamese adage)
Though they are sadly not as well-known as western warrior women like Boudica, the story of Vietnamese sisters Trưng Trắc (徵側) and Trưng Nhị (徵貳) and their rebellion against Imperial China is just thrilling and vivid.
Born in Jiaozhi, Northern Vietnam, the Trưng sisters were raised in a noble military household, where they learned martial arts from their father, a prefect of Mê Linh. They grew into intelligent and accomplished young women, and when a neighbouring prefect came to visit their father, his son, Thi Sách, could not help but fall in love with the elder sister, Trưng Trắc.
The pair were very happily married. However, this was no fairytale ending, as the two families were living under the Chinese Han dynasty, who had invaded and conquered Northern Vietnam some decades earlier.
The native Vietnamese were extremely unhappy by what they viewed as their oppression under Chinese rule, and there are many accounts of the Hans forcing the Vietnamese to assimilate to Chinese culture as they pushed further southwards.
The newly married Thi Sách chose to rebel, and was executed for his insurrection. Motivated by this cruel injustice, the Trưng sisters sprang into action, assembling an army of both men and women to drive out the Chinese.
The rebellion was immensely successful, taking back as many as 65 citadels and liberating Nanyue within months. Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were appointed queens of Nanyue and held off the Han for over three years from 40 – 43 CE.
Unfortunately, nothing could keep the Han dynasty back forever, and the reign of the sisters was short lived. Both Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were defeated in battle in 43 – some sources say they were executed, others say they committed suicide once they saw the battle was lost.
Whatever happened, the legacy of the Trưng Sisters remains revered in Vietnam. It was the first resistance movement against the Chinese after over 200 years of subjugation. There is a district in Hanoi named after the women, as well as many streets in large cities and several schools. In addition there are a number of temples dedicated to the Trưng Sisters and a yearly holiday is observed in February commemorating their deaths.
“All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission, Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country”
– 15th Century Vietnamese poem
Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past – Patricia M. Pelley
The Birth of Vietnam – Keith Weller Taylor
“On a sunny day in Saigon, national heroines of Viet Nam are honored with a parade of elephants and floats” by SAS Scandinavian Airlines – http://images.flysas.com.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons