The Rebellion Of The Trưng Sisters

Vietnamese Scenery

Vietnam… a country that has been ravaged by many wars throughout centuries. Wars that began as small as tribal wars, like the Lac Viet-Au Viet war during the Hong Bang Dynasty, and then led to many other wars including the Chinese domination wars and more.

The story that I’m covering for you took place during one of the orchestrated attacks by China on Vietnam. This was done to simply impose both political and cultural control over the Northern area of Vietnam.

This is the tale of two heroic sisters… two sisters that go by the name of the Trưng Sisters. These historical figures take us back to around 39-43 AD Vietnam. To give you more of an idea as to who they were, I’m going to the beginning, before they were involved with the wars.

A painting of the Trưng Sisters in a Dong Ho traditional canvas

The Trưng sisters were Trưng Trắc (the older sister) and Trưng Nhi (the younger sister). They were born during a time where Vietnam was under the control of the Chinese Han Dynasty into a military family and grew up in a rural village called Gia Chi, in Northern Vietnam. They were both very well educated, under their father’s keen eye, furthermore, they both excelled in both martial arts and literature, and very well versed in the art of warfare. Their father made sure that they were both fully prepared for when their time to step up came to be, to inherit their fathers land and titles. In time, a neighbouring prefect came to visit Mê Linh (rural district of Hanoi), he brought with him his son, Thi Sách. The prefect’s son, Thi Sách… once he met Trưng Trắc he fell in love with her during the visit, and soon after they were married.

The sisters saw first hand the oppression that was plaguing their land by the Chinese rulers at the time. Even though historical accounts differ from one another… The Chinese side states that there was absolutely no cruelty by the hands of Chinese officials and that the Han rule was just there to help the Vietnamese people.. by creating things like irrigation networks and helping them to learn the Han law.

Of course… The Vietnamese historical accounts beg to differ from what the Chinese accounts claimed. Oddly enough the Chinese accounts also left out the murder of Trưng Trắc’s, husband and a second account was not exactly left out, but simply differed… this account was in regards to the death of the sisters.

Cultural differences still took their toll on both sides, and made the situation even more tense. Considering some of those differences also involved women’s roles in life. This is where the two sisters come in. It was about 39 AD, when Trưng Trắc’s husband was apparently executed by the Chinese governor at the time. The reason for this execution? It was all because Thi Sách dared to speak his mind. He fixed a protest, as he wasn’t willing to abide with the increasing tax rates on his fellow people.

This caused a massive outcry… Hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned. Instead of retreating into isolation and lament her husband’s death, Trưng Trắc was after vengeance and justice. This is when I truly believe that it must have been a bit of a blow for the Chinese when they saw the rebellion being led by two very well educated and strong women, with good knowledge in the art of warfare.

The sisters assembled allies, people who were supportive of their cause and to free themselves from Han rule. The numbers mounted up to about 80,000 combatants, many of whom were women, and with that level of fire behind them, they swarmed the Chinese and pushed them out of Vietnam.

Once that victory was achieved, Trưng Trắc took the role of Queen of Northern Vietnam, while her sister Trưng Nhi, acted as the main adviser to the Queen, but there is also the belief that she may have also been co-regent.

Chinese Emperor Guangwu, as illustrated by the Tang artist Yan Liben (600–673 AD)

Just a few years later, after the Western Han kingdom crumbled, the Chinese Emperor Guangwu, reconciled his country and brought it back together up on its feet. Once that was accomplished, he sent his finest generals to break the Trưng sisters and their supporters. It was of vital importance for  Emperor Guangwu that General Ma Yuan, played his role in this invasion. Thus, they spoke and the General’s daughter, became the empress to Guangwu’s son and successor, known as Emperor Ming.

Troops from both sides collided, blood was shed from both sides. This went on for more than a year. General Ma Yuan, led his well experienced army towards battle, while the Trưng sisters rode out to face him and his men on elephants, leading their own armed forces to fight for the rule over Northern Vietnam.

General Ma Yuan.JPG
Statue of  General Ma Yuan on Mount Fubo, Guilin

In 43 AD the Trưng sisters and their troops had been defeated by General Ma Yuan and his battle-hardened army. This is were we will never truly know how these fierce women met their end. As stated earlier on, there was one thing that simply differed in the Chinese accounts to the Vietnamese accounts, the death of the sisters. The Vietnamese accounts state that the sisters committed suicide by drowning themselves by jumping into a river after their rebellion was crushed and having faced defeat. The Chinese accounts, however, state that the Chinese General Ma Yuan had in fact captured the sisters and beheaded them instead.

Once the insurgency was brought down to heel, the Han Chinese turned their gaze upon them, and executed thousands of the Trưng sisters allies and supporters. To insure the Chinese dominance over the Northern land of Vietnam, China even left some of its soldiers behind, and even sent over settlers to diminish unruly Vietnamese.

It is also said that perhaps, a reason that may have played for the Vietnamese losing to the Chinese power, was because many of the rebels left the Trưng sisters and their rebellion as they didn’t believe that they could win under women’s leadership. If this in fact is to be true, considering the education the sisters had I don’t believe that they would have lost, especially if they had the full support that they required.

The statue of the Trưng sisters (Hai Ba Trưng) in the Suoi Tien Amusement Park,  based at the 9th District in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Even after centuries of foreign rule, Trưng Trắc and her sister Trưng Nhi are held in high regard in Vietnam, as they were the first to lead a good and hearty opposition against the Chinese domination, and for that reason alone they were not to be forgotten. There are even temples that had been built for the Trưng sisters in different provinces.

Their story, even 2000 years old it truly stands for Vietnamese resistance and freedom.