The Trưng sisters (Vietnamese: Hai Bà Trưng, 𠄩婆徵, literally "Two Ladies [named] Trưng", c. 14 – c. 43) were Vietnamese military leaders who ruled for three years after rebelling in AD 40 against the first Chinese domination of Vietnam. They are regarded as national heroines of Vietnam. Their names were Trưng Trắc (Hán tự: 徵側; Chinese pinyin: Zheng Ce; Wade–Giles: Cheng1 Ts'e2) and Trưng Nhị (Hán tự: 徵貳; Chinese pinyin: Zheng Er ; Wade–Giles: Cheng1 Erh4). Trưng Trắc was the first woman to be a Vietnamese monarch, as well as the only queen regnant in the history of Vietnam (Lý Chiêu Hoàng was the second woman to take the reign and is the only empress regnant), and she was accorded the title Queen Trưng (Chữ Quốc ngữ: Trưng Nữ vương, Hán tự: 徵女王) in Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư.
|Vietnamese||Hai Bà Trưng|
|Literal meaning||Two ladies Trưng|
The sisters were born in Jiaozhi (Giao Chỉ), a commandery of the Chinese Han dynasty in modern-day northern Vietnam. The dates of their births are unknown, but Trưng Trắc was older than Trưng Nhị. The exact dates of their deaths are also unknown but both died around 43 AD after battling against the punitive expedition force led by Ma Yuan.
The Trưng sisters were highly educated under the watchful eyes of their father; they excelled in both literature and martial arts. Both were in line to inherit their father's land and titles.
The former Qin commander Zhao Tuo established the state of Nanyue in 204 BC and had conquered Âu Lạc in 180 BC, incorporating the Vietnamese realm under Han rule. In 112 BC, Emperor Wu of Han dispatched soldiers against Nanyue and the kingdom was annexed in 111 BC during the ensuing Han conquest of Nanyue. Nine commanderies were established to administer the region, three of which were located in what is now northern Vietnam. Revolts of local tribes against the Han began in 40 AD led by the Trưng sisters.
The Trưng sisters were daughters of a wealthy aristocratic family of Lạc ethnicity (The Lac were sorts of a confederation of multi-ethnic peoples). Their father had been a Lạc lord in Mê Linh district (modern-day Mê Linh District, Hanoi). Trưng Trắc's husband was Thi Sách (Shi Suo), was also the Lạc lord of Chu Diên (modern-day Khoái Châu District, Hưng Yên Province). Su Ding, the Chinese governor of Jiaozhi province at the time, is remembered by his cruelty and tyranny. According to the Book of the Later Han, Thi Sách was "of a fierce temperament", and Su Ding attempted to restrain him with legal procedures, literally to behead him without trial. Trưng Trắc stirred her husband to action and became the central figure in mobilizing the Lạc lords against the Chinese. In March of 40 AD, Trưng Trắc and her younger sister Trưng Nhị, led the Lạc Việt to rise up in rebellion against the Han.
The Book of the Later Han recorded that Trưng Trắc launched the rebellion to avenge the killing of her husband. It began at the Red River Delta, but soon spread to other Lạc and non-Han peoples from an area stretching from Hepu Commandery to Rinan. Chinese settlements were overrun, and Su Ding fled. The uprising gained the support of about sixty-five towns and settlements. Trưng Trắc was proclaimed as queen regnant.
In 42 AD, the Han emperor commissioned general Ma Yuan to suppress the rebellion with 20,000 troops. The rebellion of the two sisters was defeated in the next year as Ma Yuan captured and decapitated Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, then sent their heads to the Han court in Luoyang.
Lü Jia refused treasonous brides;
Trưng Trắc raised her shield to resist oppression
The primary historical source for the sisters is the 5th century Book of the Later Han compiled by historian Fan Ye, which covers the history of the Han Dynasty from 6 to CE 189. The secondary source, but the primary popular source, is the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (Complete Annals of Dai Viet) compiled by Ngô Sĩ Liên under the order of the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông and finished in 1479.
The Chinese traditional historical accounts on the Trưng sisters are remarkably brief. They are found in several different chapters of the Book of the Later Han, the history for the Eastern Han Dynasty, against which the Trưng sisters had carried out their uprising.
Book of Later Han; 5th century ADEdit
In the 16th year of the Jianwu era (40 AD), Jiaozhi (交阯; WD: Chiao-chih) woman Zheng Ce (徵側; SV: Trưng Trắc) and her younger sister Zheng Er (徵貳; SV: Trưng Nhị) rebelled and attacked the commandery['s strongholds]. As for Zheng Ce, she was the daughter of the Luo general of Miling prefecture (麊泠; SV: Mê Linh). She was married as wife to Shi Suo (詩索; SV: Thi Sách), a man in Zhouyuan (朱鳶; SV: Chu Diên). She/he(?) was/They were(?) remarkably heroic and couragerous. Su Ding (蘇定; WD: Su Ting), the administrator of Jiaozhi restrained her (them?) with law; Ce became infuriated, rebelled, and attacked. Thus, the barbarians in Jiuzhen (九眞; WD Chiu-chen), Rinan (日南; WD:Jih-nan), Hepu (合浦; WD: Hop'u) all supported her. All in all, she took sixty-five strongholds and established herself as queen. Jiaozhi's governor and administrators could but defend themselves. (Emperor) Guangwu thus decreed that Changsha (長沙; WD: Ch'ang-sha), Hepu, and Jiaozhi, all must furnish chariots and boats, repair roads and bridges, dredge obstructed waterways, and store foods and provisions. In the 18th year (42 CE), he dispatched Wave-Subduing General Ma Yuan (馬援 ; WD: Ma Yüan), Tower-ship General Duan Zhi (段志 ; WD: Tuan Chih) [and Household General Liu Long (劉隆; WD: Liu Long)],[Note 2] who led over 10,000 troops from Ch'ang-sha, Guiyang (桂陽; SV: Quế Dương); Lingling (零陵; SV: Linh Lăng); Cangwu (蒼梧; SV: Thương Ngô) on a punitive expedition. Summer next year (43 CE), in the fourth month, Ma Yuan devastated Jiaozhi, beheaded Zheng Ce, Zheng Er, and others; the rest all surrendered or scattered. He advanced and attacked the Jiuzhen's rebel Du Yang (都陽; SV: Đô Dương) and others, routing and subduing them. He exiled over 300 rebel leaders to Lingling. Thus the regions beyond the Ridge were entirely pacified.
Chapter twenty-four, the biographies of Ma and some of his notable male descendants, had this parallel description:
Then Jiaozhi woman Zheng Ce and [her] younger sister Zheng Er rebelled; [they] attacked and the commandery was lost. The barbarians in Jiuzhen, Rinan, Hepu all supported [the Zheng sisters]. The rebels captured over sixty strongholds beyond the Ridge; Ce established herself as queen. Then a sealed decree honored Yuan as Wave-Subduing General, assigned Fule Marquis Liu Long as his assistant, dispatched Tower-ship general Duan Zhi, etc. southwards to attack Jiaozhi. When the army reached Hepu, Zhi fell ill and died; [the Emperor] decreed that Yuan command his [Zhi's] soldiers also. Then [Yuan's army] advanced along the coastline and the mountains, opening a path over thousands of li long. In the spring of the 18th [Jianwu] year (40 CE), [Yuan's] army reached up to Langbo (浪泊; SV: Lãng Bạc), fought with the rebels, routed them, decapitated thousands, [and] over tens of thousands surrendered. Yuan chased Zheng Ce to the Forbidden Gorge (禁谿; SV: Cấm Khê); defeated many times, the rebels then scattered and fled. The first month of next year (43 CE), Zheng Ce and Zheng Er were beheaded, their heads sent to Luoyang. Yuan was enfeoffed as Marquis of Xinsi, [his] fief [containing] three-thousand households. Yuan then slaughtered oxen, and distilled wines, and rewarded the soldiers [and] officers [for their] hard work...
Yuan commanded over 2,000 tower-ships big and small, over 20,000 soldiers, advanced and attacked the bandit Zheng Ce's remnants Du Yang (都羊, SV: Đô Dương) et al., from Wugong (無功; SV: Vô Công) to Jufeng (居風, SV: Cư Phong), beheading [or] capturing over 5,000; south of the mountains everywhere [was] pacified. Yuan reported that Xiyu prefecture (西於; SV: Tây Ư) had 32,000 households, its boundaries [were] over thousands of li from the court; he requested that [Xiyu prefecture] be divided into two prefectures: Fengxi (封溪, SV: Phong Khê) and Wanghai (望海; SV: Vọng Hải); [the request] was granted. Yuan immediately seized the momentum, established commanderies and prefectures, repaired the strongholds and ramparts, dredged the irrigation canals, and benefited the people. [Yuan] reported [to the Emperor] Yue law and Han law differed in more than ten rules; towards the Yue people, the old rules were clarified in order to restrain them. Henceforth, the Luoyue (駱越) obeyed General Ma's laws.
Autumn of the 20th year (44 CE), [Ma Yuan] brought the troops back to the capital; the troops had been suffering from miasma and epidemic, four to five died out of ten. Yuan was bestowed a military carriage; in court-meetings, [he] ranked among the Nine Ministers.
Records of Jiao Province's Outer Territories, 4th century ADEdit
An older, yet less-known account, from the now-lost Records of Jiao Province's Outer Territories (交州外域記) was quoted in the 6th-century word Commentary on the Water Classic (水經注) by Northern Wei geographer Li Daoyuan:
Later, the son of Zhouyuan's Luo general, named Shi (詩; SV: Thi), asked[Note 3] the daughter of Ming[Note 4] ling's Luo general, named Zheng Ce (徵側; SV: Trưng Trắc), to be his wife. Ce, as a human being, possessed mettle and courage. Alongsides Shi, she uprose and rebelled, attacking and devastating Jiao Province, as well as reducing the Luo generals into subordination. Zheng Ce made [herself] queen. Starting from Miling prefecture, she occupied two divisions Jiaozhi and Jiuzhen, and for two years taxed the people. Later on, the Han (court) dispatched Wave-Subduing General to lead troops on a punitive expedition. Ce and Shi fled into the Golden Gorge (金溪 SV; Kim Khê). Ma Yuan hunted them down and captured them after three years. Now [from] Western Shu [there were] also troops dispatched on punitive expedition against Ce and Shi and others and all those commanderies and prefectures were pacified; then magistrates were instituted there.
The traditional Chinese accounts differed from Vietnamese traditional accounts in many places: Chinese accounts do not indicate oppression of the Vietnamese population by the Chinese officials and Su Ding's killing of Trưng Trắc's husband. In the Chinese account, the Trưng sisters did not commit suicide. Chinese sources also contradicted accounts in Vietnamese folk history that the Trưng sisters' retainers followed their examples and also committed suicide.
Excerpts from Complete Annals of Đại Việt, 1479Edit
In the year Kỉ Hợi [Ji Hai, 39 AD] (It was the 15th year of the era of Emperor Guang Wu of Han, Liu Xiu), the administrator of Jiaozhi, Su Ding, governed with greed and violence. Queen Trưng raised troops and attacked.
Queen Trưng reigned for three years. The queen was remarkably strong and courageous. She expelled Su Ding and established a nation as queen, but as a female ruler, she could not accomplish the rebuilding [of the nation]. Her taboo name was Trắc, and her family name was Trưng, but was originally Lạc (雒).[Note 5] She was the daughter of a Lạc general from Mê Linh from Phong Châu, and she was the wife of Thi Sách from Chu Diên County. Thi Sách was the son of another Lạc general, and the child of each of both houses married each other. ([Wang Youxue's] Collected Overview of the Outlines and Details (of the Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance) ([資治通鑒]綱目集覽) erroneously indicated that his family name was Lạc.) Her capital was Mê Linh. [...]
Her first year was Canh Tí [Gengzi, 40 AD]. (It was the 16th year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the second month, the queen was bitter because the governor, Su Ding, used the law to restrain her and also harbored a grudge against him for having killed her husband. She, therefore, along with her younger sister Nhị, rose and captured the commandery capital. Ding 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 [Xinchou, 41 AD]. (It was the 17th year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the second month, there was a solar eclipse on the last day of the (lunar) month. The Han court, witnessing that as Lady Trưng had declared herself queen, captured cities, caused much distress in the border commanderies, thus ordered Trường Sa, Hợp Phố, and Giao Châu ([now] ours) to prepare wagons and boats, repair the bridges and the roads, dredge the waterways, and store foods and provisions, and also commissioned Wave-Subduing General Ma Yuan and Fule marquis Liu Long as his assistant in order to invade.
Her third year was Nhâm Dần [Renyin, 42 AD]. (It was the 18th year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the first month, Ma advanced, following the coastline and the mountain(paths). He went for over a thousand li and reached Lãng Bạc (west of Tây Nhai in La Thành was (a place) named Lãng Bạc). He battled with the queen, who saw that the enemy's army was large. She herself considered her army to be disorderly[Note 6] and feared that it could not stand. Therefore, she withdrew to Forbidden (禁 Jìn) Gorge. (The Forbidden Gorge was referred to in history as Golden (金 Jīn) Gorge.) The army also thought that the queen was a woman and could not win, and therefore scattered. The national continuation again ended.
Her fourth year was Quý Mão [Guimao 43 AD]. (It was the 19th year of Han Dynasty's Jianwu era). In the spring, the first moth, Queen Trưng and her younger sister warred against Han army; they were abandoned and both were defeated and perished. Ma Yuan chased down the remaining multitude, Đô Dương and others. When chased to Cư Phong prefecture,[Note 8] [Đô Dương and others] surrendered.
The locals admired and mourned the Trưng Queens; they erected a temple for worshipping. The temple is located at in Hát River commune, Phúc Lộc Prefecture; there is also (another temple?) in the old territory of Phiên Ngung.
Lê Văn Hưu (Trần dynasty's historian) wrote:
Trưng Trắc, Trưng Nhị are women; with one single cry [they rallied] the commanderies of Cửu Chân, Nhật Nam, Hợp Phố; and sixty-five strongholds beyond the ridge heeded their call. They established a nation and proclaimed themselves as queens as easily as their turning over their hands. We can see that we Viets have the potentials to achieve the status of hegemons and monarchs. Regrettably, since after the Triệu dynasty until before Ngô Quyền, in the span of more than one thousand years, the men themselves merely hung their heads, wrung their hands, and became vassals and servants to Northerners (Chinese). Don't they men feel ashamed considering that the two Trưng were women? Alas! They may say they have thrown themselves away. The reign of Trưng Queens started in the year of Canh Tý and ended in Nhâm Dần, for a total of 3 years (40–42).
Ngô Sĩ Liên (the Complete Annals chief compiler) wrote:
Lady Trưng was infuriated by the oppressive Han administrator. With her raised arm and one single yell, she almost rebuilt our Viet national continuation. Her heroic mettle during her lifetime not only prompted her nation-building and proclamation of queenship but also, even after she perished, hamper disaster and hinder peril. Whenever disasters, like flood or drought, happen, no prayers go unanswered. The same for the younger Trưng sister. For she, a woman, possessed the gentleman's virtue, and her heroic and courageous spirit, between heaven and earth, does not deteriorate even though her body alrealdy perished. Couldn't men have nourished that upright and honest spirit?
The Trưng Sisters are highly revered in Vietnam, as they led the first resistance movement against the occupying Chinese after 247 years of domination. Many temples are dedicated to them, and a yearly holiday in February to commemorate their deaths is observed by many Vietnamese. A central district in Hanoi called the Hai Bà Trưng District is named after them, as are numerous large streets in major cities and many schools. Their biographies are mentioned in children's school books.
The stories of the Trưng Sisters and of another famous woman warrior, Lady Triệu, are cited by some historians[by whom?] as hints that Vietnamese society before sinicization was a matriarchal one, where there are no obstacles for women in assuming leadership roles.
Even though the Trưng Sisters' revolt against the Chinese was almost 2000 years ago, its legacy in Vietnam remains. The two sisters are considered to be a national symbol in Vietnam, representing Vietnam's independence. They are often depicted as two women riding two giant war elephants. Many times, they are seen leading their followers into battle against the Chinese. The Trưng sisters were more than two sisters that gave their life up for their country; they are powerful symbols of Vietnamese resistance and freedom.
In 1962 during the Vietnam War, Trần Lệ Xuân (aka Madame Nhu), sister-in-law of South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Diệm had a costly statue erected in the capital of Saigon in memory of the Trưng sisters, with the facial features modeled on herself, and also established the Women's Solidarity Movement, a female paramilitary organization,  using the sisters as a rallying symbol. In the aftermath of the 1963 overthrow of Ngô Đình Diệm, the statues of the sisters were demolished by jubilant anti-Ngô Đình Diệm rioters.
Temples to the Trưng Sisters or Hai Bà Trưng Temples were found from as early as the end of the Third Era of Northern Domination. The best known Hai Bà Trưng Temple is in Hanoi near Hoàn Kiếm Lake. The temple was constructed by king Lý Anh Tông (r. 1138–1176) in 1158. According to tradition, in that year a devastating drought occurred in the Red River Delta, and the king ordered a Buddhist monk named Cam Thin to conduct a sacrifices rite and pray for rain at the Trung sisters temple. It rained the following day that saved his kingdom from famine. During one night the king dreamed and saw the two sisters appeared and were riding together on an iron horse. When the king awoke, he ordered the temple to be gloriously decorated and performed a sacrifice ritual to the sisters. Later he had other two temples to worship the sisters, which one was destroyed by river landslide and another one temple which still being today. Other Hai Bà Trưng temples are found in Mê Linh District (Vĩnh Phúc Province), Phúc Thọ District (Hà Tây Province) and Hoàng Hoa Thám Street, Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City.
One reason for the defeat is desertion by rebels because they did not believe they could win under a woman's leadership. The fact that women were in charge was blamed as a reason for the defeat by historical Vietnamese texts in which the historians ridiculed and mocked men because they did nothing while "mere girls", whom they viewed with revulsion, took up the banner of revolt. The historical poem containing the phrase "mere girls", which related the revolt of the Trung Sisters while the men did nothing, was not intended to praise women nor view war as women's work, as it has been wrongly interpreted.
Lưu Hữu Phước wrote the patriotic song Hát Giang trường hận (Long Hatred on Hát River) between 1942–1943 to dedicate to the Trưng sisters. Later, Phước revised the lyrics in 1946 to create another song Hồn tử sĩ (Soul of the Matyred Soldier), which is often used as lament for state funerals, and the lyrics still mentioned the Trưng sisters' rebellion.
- The use of the word barbarians is historical, and is translated as used in the original Chinese texts.
- Liu Long was not mentioned here, yet Hou Hanshu's Account of Liu Long recorded that he also participated in this campaign against Trưng Trắc, and that he caught Trưng Nhị at the Forbidden Gorge (禁谿), beheaded over 1,000, and subdued over 20,000 rebels
- The two characters "詩索", to be read as 'Shi/Thi asked', were instead misread as the name Shi Suo/Thi Sách; 索 "to ask" is the main verb of this sentence "後朱䳒雒將子名詩索𥹆泠雒將女名徵側爲妻"
- 𥹆 míng is possibly a clerical error for 麊 mí
- or Hùng 雄(?)
- 自度烏合之衆, lit. "[the queen] [her]self considered [her] multitude to be like a murder of crows"
- Lê Văn Hưu's remark is entered here
- Possibly at Hải Vân Pass, see Lê Thành Khôi's Histoire du Viet Nam des origines a 1858 (Paris: Sudestasie, 1981)
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- Gernet 1996, p. 126.
- Brindley 2015, p. 235.
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- Scott 1918, p. 312.
- Hou Hanshu, vol. 86 "Account of the Southern Man and Southwestern Yi" text: "徵側者，麊泠縣雒將之女也。嫁爲硃珪人詩索妻，甚雄勇。"
- Scott 1918, p. 313.
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- Kiernan 2019, p. 78.
- Kiernan 2019, p. 80.
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- Hou Hanshu, Vol. 86
- As quoted in Gujin Tushu Jicheng Vol. 421
- Hou Hanshu, Ch. 24 "Account of Ma Yuan"
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- Trưng sisters Tuyet A. Tran & Chu V. Nguyen