Trưng Sisters

From New World Encyclopedia

Hai ba trung Dong Ho painting.jpg

The Trung Sisters (c. 12 - 43 C.E.), known in Vietnamese as Hai Bà Trưng (literally "the two Ladies Trưng"), and individually as Trưng Trắc (and Trưng Nhị, were two first-century Vietnamese women leaders who successfully repelled Chinese invasions for three years, and are regarded as national heroines of Vietnam. Vietnam as such did not yet exist; they were from Nanyue/Nam Viet. It is not known for certain exactly which language they spoke, nor where they were from (modern southern China or northern Vietnam). The sisters were born during the thousand-year Chinese occupation of what is now Vietnam and part of southern China. The dates of their birth are unknown, but Trưng Trắc was older than Trưng Nhị. The exact date of their death is unknown but both died in 43 C.E. The sisters, however, are highly revered in Vietnam, where they are seen as having led the first resistance movement against Chinese occupation, after 247 years of domination. Many temples are dedicated to them, and a yearly holiday commemorates their deaths.

A district in Hanoi called the Hai Ba Trung district is named after them. In addition, numerous large streets in major cities and many schools are named after them. They are often depicted riding on elephants into battle. The stories of the Trưng sisters and of another famous woman warrior, Triệu Thị Trinh, are cited by some historians as hints that Vietnamese society before Sinicization was a matriarchal one, where there were no obstacles for women in assuming leadership roles. Certainly, there are comparatively few nations that regard women as more or less their founders, whose stories represent the founding narrative. Hence, the term "founding father" rather than "founding mother" is almost always used. This story of women leading a people in resistance to aggression shows that some have long attempted to redress the gender imbalance that has often relegated women to a purely domestic role. Hopefully, as humanity completes what some regard as a maturation process, it will one day be no longer necessary for men or women to have to take up arms.

Traditional Vietnamese account

The third book of Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư (大越史記全書 Complete Annals of Great Viet)[1], published in editions between 1272 and 1697, has the following to say about the Trưng Sisters:

Queen Trưng [徵, Zheng] reigned for three years.

The queen was strong and brave. She expelled Tô Định [蘇定, Sū Dìng] and established a kingdom as the queen, but as a female ruler could not accomplish the rebuilding of the state.

Her taboo name was Trắc [側, Cè], and her family name was Trưng.

Her family name was originally Lạc. She was the daughter of General Lạc from Mê Linh from Phong Châu, and she was the wife of Thi Sách [詩索, Shī Suǒ] from Chu Diên County. Thi Sách was the son of General Lạc's doctor, and they arranged the marriage. (The work Cương mục tập lãm [Gangmu Jilan] erroneously indicated that his family name was Lạc.) Her capital was Mê Linh.[...]

Her first year was Canh Tí [40 C.E., Gengzi]. (It was the sixteenth year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the second month, the governor of Wangku Commandery, Tô Định, punished her under the law, and she also hated Định for having killed her husband. She therefore, along with her sister Nhị, rose and captured the commandery capital. Định was forced to flee. Nam Hải, Cửu Chân, Nhật Nam, and Hợp Phố all rose in response to her. She was able to take over 65 cities and declare herself queen. Thereafter, she began to use the family name of Trưng.

Her second year was Tân Sửu [41 C.E., Xinchou]. (It was the seventeenth year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the second month, there was a solar eclipse, and the moon was dark. The Han saw that as Lady Trưng had declared herself queen and captured cities, causing much distress in the border commanderies. It thus ordered Trường Sa, Hợp Phố, and our Giao Châu to prepare wagons and boats, repair the bridges and the roads, dredge the rivers, and store food supplies. It commissioned Mã Viện (Ma Yuan) as the General Fupo and Liu Long the Marquess of Fule as his assistant in order to invade.

Her third year was Nhâm Dần [42 C.E., Renyin]. (It was the eighteenth year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the first month, Mã followed the coastline and entered Sui Mountain. He went for over a thousand li and reached Lãng Bạc (west of Tây Nhai in La Thành was named Lãng Bạc) He battled with the queen, who saw that the enemy's army was large. She considered her own army to be ill-trained, and feared that it could not stand. Therefore, she withdrew to Jin (禁) River. (Jin River was referred to in history as Jin (金) River.) Her followers also thought that the queen was a woman and could not be victorious, and therefore scattered. Her kingdom therefore ended.

Lê Văn Hưu (one of the historians editing the annals) wrote: Trưng Trắc, Trưng Nhị are women, with a single cry lead the prefectures of Cửu Chân, Nhật Nam, Hợp Phố, and 65 strongholds heed their call. They established a nation and proclaimed their rule as easily as their turning over their hands. It awakened all of us that we can be independent. Unfortunately, between the fall of the Triệu Dynasty and the rise of the Ngô Dynasty, in the span of more than a thousand years, men of this land only bowed their heads and accepted the fate of servitude to the people from the North (Chinese).
The reign of Trưng Nữ Vương [Trưng Queens], started in the year of Canh Tý and ended in Nhâm Dần, for a total of three years (40-42).

Early years

The Trưng sisters were born in a rural Vietnamese village, into a military family. Their father was a prefect of Mê Linh (麊泠), therefore the sisters grew up in a house well-versed in the martial arts. They also witnessed the cruel treatment of the Viets by their Chinese overlords. The Trưng sisters spent much time studying the art of warfare, as well as learning fighting skills.

When a neighboring prefect came to visit Mê Linh, he brought with him his son, Thi Sách. Thi Sách met and fell in love with Trưng Trắc during the visit, and they were soon married.


With Chinese rule growing intolerably exacting, and the policy of forcible assimilation into the Chinese mold, Thi Sách made a stand against the Chinese. The Chinese responded by executing Thi Sách as a warning to all those who contemplated rebellion. His death spurred his wife to take up his cause and the flames of insurrection spread.

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. According to Jones, they personally trained "thirty-six women as generals for their army of eight thousand" (Jones, 32). Within months, they had taken back many (about 65) citadels from the Chinese, and had liberated Nam Việt. They became queens of the country, and managed to resist all Chinese attacks on Nam Việt for over two years.


Their revolution was short lived however, as the Chinese gathered a huge expeditionary army 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 central flank 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 realized that they had been defeated and that to fight further would mean death at the hands of the Chinese. Therefore to protect their honor, and to elude ridicule, the two queens committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Hát River (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.

Traditional Chinese account

The Chinese traditional historical accounts on the Trưng sisters are remarkably brief. They are found in two different chapters of Hou Han Shu, the history for the Eastern Han Dynasty, against which the Trưng sisters had carried out their uprising.

Chapter 86 of Hou Han Shu (Book of the Later Han), entitled Biographies of the Southern and the Southwestern Barbarians,[2] has this short description:

In the 16th year of Jianwu [40], Jiaozhi (Giao Chỉ) (modern northern Vietnam and extreme western Guangdong) and western Guangxi women Zhēng Cè (Trưng Trắc) and Zhēng Èr (Trưng Nhị) rebelled and attacked the commandery capital. Zhēng Cè was the daughter of the sheriff of Miling (Mê Linh; 麊泠) County, and she married a man named Shi Suo (Thi Sách; 詩索) from ....(Chu Diên) She was a ferocious warrior. Su Ding (蘇定), the governor of Jiaozhi Commandery, curbed her with laws. Cè became angry and rebelled. The barbarian towns of Jiuzhen, Rinan, and Hepu Commanderies all joined her, and she captured sixty five cities and claimed to be queen. The governors of Jiaozhi Province and the commanderies could only defend themselves. Emperor Guangwu therefore ordered the Changsha, Hepu, and Jiaozhi Commanderies to prepare wagons and boats, to repair the roads and bridges, to open the mountain passes, and to save food supplies. In the 18th year 42, he sent Ma Yuan the General Fupuo and Duan Zhi (段志) the General Lochuan to lead ten odd thousands of men from Changsha, Guiyang, Linling, and Cangwu Commanderies against them. In the summer of the next year 43, Ma recaptured Jiaozhi and killed Zhēng Cè, Zhēng Èr, and others in battle, and the rest scattered. He also attacked Du Yang (都陽), a rebel of the Jiuzhen Commandery, and Du surrendered and was moved, along with some 300 of his followers to Lingling Commandery. The border regions were thus pacified.[3]

Chapter 24, the biographies of Ma and some of his notable male descendants, had a parallel description that also added that Ma was able to impress the locals by creating irrigation networks to help the people and also by simplifying and clarifying the Han laws, and was able to get the people to follow Han's laws.

The traditional Chinese account therefore does not indicate abuse of the Vietnamese population by the Chinese officials. However, it also implicitly disavowed the traditional Vietnamese accounts of massive cruelty and of the Chinese official killing Trưng Trắc's husband. There was further no indication that the Trưng sisters committed suicide, that other followers followed example and did so, or that the Chinese army fought naked to win the battle. Indeed, Ma, known in Chinese history for his strict military discipline, would not have likely carried out cruel or unusual tactics.


The Trưng Sisters are highly revered in Vietnam, as they led the first resistance movement against the occupying Chinese after 247 years of domination. They gained iconic status during the Vietnamese anti-colonialism struggle against the French (Marr, 200-201). Many temples are dedicated to them, and a yearly holiday, occurring in February, to commemorate their deaths is observed by many Vietnamese. A district in Hanoi called the Hai Ba Trung district is named after them. In addition, numerous large streets in major cities and many schools are named after them. They are often depicted riding on elephants into battle.

The stories of the Trưng sisters and of another famous woman warrior, Triệu Thị Trinh, are cited by some historians as hints that Vietnamese society before Sinicization was a matriarchal one, where there are no obstacles for women in assuming leadership roles.


  1. Đại Việt Sử ký toàn thư (大越史記全書 Complete Annals of Great Viet. Retrieved December 24, 2008.
  2. The use of the word barbarians is historical, and is used to be faithful in translating the Chinese texts. No disrespect is intended in any way.
  3. Translated from Chinese microfilm of original. See Fan, Ye, and Biao Sima. 0960. Hou Han shu. China: Song Dynasty. {OCLC|82158968}}

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Jones, David E. 2005. Women warriors: a history. Potomac's the warriors series. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books Inc. ISBN 9781574882063
  • Marlay, Ross, and Clark D. Neher. 1999. Patriots and tyrants: ten Asian leaders. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 9780847684410.
  • Marr, David G. 1984. Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945. American Council of Learned Societies. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520050815.
  • Phan, Peter C. 2005. Vietnamese-American Catholics. Ethnic American pastoral spirituality series. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809143528.
  • Prasso, Sheridan. 2006. The Asian mystique: dragon ladies, geisha girls and the myths of exotic oriental. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781586483944.


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