Trưng Sisters

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Trưng Sisters
Queen of Me Linh
Hai ba trung Dong Ho painting.jpg
The Trưng sisters ride elephants into battle in this Đông Hồ style painting.
VietnameseHai Bà Trưng
Literal meaningTwo ladies Trưng
Lĩnh Nam

Lĩnh Nam
CapitalMê Linh
Common languagesOld Chinese
• 40–43
Trưng Trắc
• 40–43
Trưng Nhị
• Collapse of Western Han Dynasty
• Governor of Jiaozhi murdered Trưng Trắc's husband
39 40
• Eastern Han dynasty reconquer Vietnam
43 43
CurrencyCash coins
Preceded by
Succeeded by
First Chinese domination of Vietnam
Second Chinese domination of Vietnam
Today part of Vietnam

The Trưng sisters (Vietnamese: Hai Bà Trưng, literally "Two Ladies [named] Trưng", c. AD 12 – c. AD 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 () and Trưng Nhị ().

The sisters were born in Giao Chi, in rural Northern Vietnam, a commandery of the Han dynasty (and in modern 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 AD 43 after a battle against an army 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.[1]

Historical background[edit]

The former Qin commander Zhao Tuo (Vietnamese: Triệu Đà) conquered Âu Lạc, renamed the country Nanyue (Nam Việt) and established the Triệu dynasty.[2] Emperor Wu of Han dispatched soldiers against Nanyue and the kingdom was annexed in 111 BC during the ensuing Han–Nanyue War. Nine commanderies were established to administer the region,[3] three of which are located in modern-day northern Vietnam. Revolts against the Han began in AD 40 led by the Trưng sisters.[4]


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 AD 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.

Book of the Later Han, 5th century[edit]

The Chinese traditional historical accounts on the Trưng sisters are remarkably brief. They are found in two 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.

Chapter eighty-six of the Book of the Later Han, entitled Biographies of the Southern and the Southwestern Barbarians,[Note 1] 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 Mê Linh (; Miling) County, and she married a man named Shi Suo (Thi Sách; 詩索) from ....(Chu Diên) [Note 2] She was a ferocious warrior. Su Ding (蘇定), the grand administrator of Jiaozhi Commandery, curbed her with laws. Cè became angry and rebelled. The barbarian towns of Jiuzhen (Cửu Chân), Rinan (Nhật Nam), and Hepu (Hợp Phố) 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 Fubo 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.

Chapter twenty-four, 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. It implicitly disavows the traditional Vietnamese accounts of massive cruelty and of the Chinese official killing Trưng Trắc's husband. There is no indication in the Chinese account that the Trưng sisters committed suicide, or that other followers followed their example. Indeed, Ma, known in Chinese history for his strict military discipline, is not believed by the Chinese to have carried out cruel or unusual tactics. That account is in contrast to the Vietnamese.

Excerpts from Complete Annals of Đại Việt, 1479[edit]

Trưng Sisters, national heroines of Viet Nam are honored with a parade of elephants and floats in Saigon, 1961

The third book of Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (Complete Annals of Dai Viet),[5] published in editions between 1272 and 1697, has the following to say about the Trưng Sisters:

Procession of elephants in the Trưng Sisters' Parade in Saigon, 1957

Lê Văn Hưu (one of the historians editing the Annals) wrote:

Traditional Vietnamese account[edit]

The Trưng sisters were born in a rural Vietnamese village, into a military family. Their father was a prefect of Mê Linh, 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 neighbouring 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 extremely exacting, and the policy of forcible cultural assimilation into the Chinese mould during the Southward expansion of the Han dynasty, 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 40, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị, after successfully repelling a small Chinese unit from their village, assembled a large army consisting mostly of women.[6] Within months, they had taken many (about 65) citadels from the Chinese, and had liberated Nanyue.[7] They became queens regnant of Nanyue and managed to resist subsequent Han attacks on the country for over three years.


Their reign was short-lived, however, as the Chinese gathered a huge expeditionary army under the veteran general Ma Yuan to suppress the rebellion. The Trưng sisters were defeated in battle in 43 AD. Different accounts regarding the fate of the sisters are recorded in Vietnamese and Chinese sources. The Đại Việt sử lược reports that the sisters were killed by Ma Yuan. According to the Trần Thế Pháp and Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư, the sisters died during the fighting after they were deserted by their fellow rebels.[8] The Book of the Later Han states that they were decapitated by Ma Yuan, who sent their heads back to the Han capital.[9] There are also legendary accounts claiming that the sisters fell sick, vanished in the sky, or took their own lives by jumping into a river and drowning.[8] According to one legendary account, when finally overwhelmed by Han China's armies, the sisters threw themselves into the Hat Giang River in order to avoid capture. They then turned into statues. These eventually washed ashore and were placed in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung Temple for worship.[10]

According to legend, Phùng Thị Chính, a pregnant captain of a group of soldiers who were to protect the center of Nanyue, gave birth on the front line. With her baby in one arm she ended the child's life and continued to fight in the war. She later committed suicide along with the Trưng sisters.[citation needed]

According to another another oral tradition, the army led by the Trưng sisters was defeated when the Chinese troops decided to fight naked, causing the mostly female army to disperse in embarrassment.[11]

Cultural significance[edit]

A statue of the Trưng Sisters in Ho Chi Minh City


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[12] and many schools.

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.[13] The two sisters are considered to be a national symbol in Vietnam. They represent 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.


Temples to the Trưng Sisters or "Hai Bà Trưng Temples" are found from as early as the end of the Third Chinese domination of Vietnam.[14] The best known Hai Bà Trưng Temple is in Hanoi near Hoàn Kiếm Lake.[15][16] 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.

Women's status[edit]

One reason for the defeat is desertion by rebels because they did not believe they could win under a woman's leadership.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19][20] And though the popular saying "When the enemy is at the gate, the woman goes out fighting" has been cited as evidence of women's stature,[21] the actual phrase in Vietnamese is "Giặc đến nhà, đàn bà cũng đánh" (When the enemy troops came to the house, the woman also went to fight the enemy), which means that fighting in war is inappropriate for women and that it is only when the situation is so desperate that war has spread to their home that women should enter the war.[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The use of the word barbarians is historical, and is translated as used in the original Chinese texts.
  2. ^ Shi's home is rendered 朱? (Zhu ?), where ? is a character that is not in Unicode and therefore unavailable online.


  1. ^ Rajapaksha, Piumi. "Hai Bà Trưng: The Story of Vietnam's Elephant-Riding Warrior Princesses". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  2. ^ Holcombe, Charles (2001). The Genesis of East Asia: 221 B.C. – A.D. 907. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 149–150. ISBN 978-0-8248-2465-5.
  3. ^ Yu, Yingshi (1986). Denis Twitchett; Michael Loewe (eds.). Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220. University of Cambridge Press. p. 453. ISBN 978-0-5212-4327-8.
  4. ^ Gernet, Jacques (1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7.
  5. ^ "Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư – Kỷ Thuộc Hán" (in Vietnamese). Institute of Social Studies Vietnam. 1993. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
  6. ^ Hue-Tam Ho Tai The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam 2001 – p. 74 "Unlike the decorous Trung Sisters of popular culture, whose female soldiers are said to have fled at the sight of naked Chinese males"
  7. ^ Nola Cooke, Tana Li, James Anderson The Tongking Gulf Through History 2011 – p. 8 "When the Trưng sisters rose against the Han administration in 40 C.E., the sound of bronze drums must have reechoed throughout the gulf, as the peoples of sixty-five citadels, from as far south as modern central Vietnam and as far north as ..."
  8. ^ a b Taylor, Keith Weller (1983). The Birth of Vietnam. University of California Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-520-07417-0.
  9. ^ Yu, Yingshi (1986). Denis Twitchett; Michael Loewe (eds.). Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 B.C. – A.D. 220. University of Cambridge Press. p. 454. ISBN 978-0-5212-4327-8.
  10. ^ Boobbyear, Claire (2013). Vietname Dream Trip. p. 49.
  11. ^ Hue-Tam Ho Tai The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam 2001 – p. 74 "Unlike the decorous Trung Sisters of popular culture, whose female soldiers are said to have fled at the sight of naked Chinese males"
  12. ^ Vietnam Country Map. Periplus Travel Maps. 2002–2003. ISBN 0-7946-0070-0.
  13. ^ Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North (History and culture of Hanoi and Tonkin). Chiang Mai. Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN B006DCCM9Q
  14. ^ The Birth of Vietnam – p. 336 Keith Weller Taylor – 1991 "The Trung sisters' posthumous cult was popular in the independence period. It is recorded that, during a drought, King Ly Anh-tong (1138–75) went to the Trung sisters' ancestral temple and ordered Buddhist priests to pray for rain." ..."Today, their temple is at An-hat in Phuc-loc. The temple hall is majestic and well cared for."
  15. ^ Lonely Planet Vietnam 10 – p. 97 Nick Ray, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Iain Stewart – 2009 this temple (Map pp. 88–89; Ptho Lao) was founded in 1142. A statue shows the two Trưng sisters (who lived in the 1st century AD) kneeling with their arms raised in the air, as if they are addressing a crowd..
  16. ^ Philip Taylor Modernity and Re-Enchantment: Religion in Post-Revolutionary Vietnam p. 163 2007 – "Stories associating violent death with powerful female deities such as the Trưng Sisters and Lady Liễu Hạnh are also known ... A description of the altar display at the Two Trưng Sisters' northern temple prompted Tạ Chí Đại Trường to suggest ..
  17. ^ Keith Weller Taylor (1991). The Birth of Vietnam. University of California Press. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-0-520-07417-0.
  18. ^ John P. McKay; Bennett D. Hill; John Buckler; Clare Haru Crowston; Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks; Patricia Buckley Ebrey; Roger B. Beck (2012). Understanding World Societies, Combined Volume: A Brief History. Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-4576-2268-7.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Keith Weller Taylor (1991). The Birth of Vietnam. University of California Press. pp. 334–. ISBN 978-0-520-07417-0.
  21. ^ Nguyˆen, Van Ky. "Rethinking the Status of Vietnamese Women in Folklore and Oral History" (PDF). University of Michigan Press. pp. 87–107.
  22. ^ Hue-Tam Ho Tai (2001). The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam. University of California Press. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-0-520-22267-0.
  23. ^

External links[edit]

Preceded by
First Chinese domination of Vietnam
Rulers of Vietnam
Succeeded by
Second Chinese domination of Vietnam