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I Will Avenge My Country: The Trung Sisters

Updated on March 18, 2014

The Trung Sisters

By Betoseha (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Betoseha (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

All The Male Heroes Bowed Their Heads

For several hundred years, the people of Vietnam lived under the oppressive rule of a foreign emperor. Conquered by the Chinese in 111 B.C., the Vietnamese were, more often than not, subjected to the whims of the emperor’s governors, who regularly harassed and abused the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese were angry at their mistreatment, but, being heavily taxed and tormented, many felt that they had no way of fighting back. This was the Vietnam that Trung Trac and her sister Trung Nhi were born into. This was not the Vietnam they left behind.

According to some accounts, Trac and Nhi were twins, born on August 1, 14 A.D. They grew up in the province of Me Linh (now Tay Vinh Phu), where they studied, among other things, martial arts under the tutelage of their father, the military chief and advisor to the Chinese dynasty. Their father was an honorable man and despised working for the Chinese—especially for Governor To Dinh, who looked for any way possible to further tax the already drained Vietnamese, going as far as to tax people for fishing in their own rivers.

The sisters’ father couldn’t stand another moment of the abuse, and soon he and another military chief from another province began to conspire against To Dinh. One day the allied chief arrived in the Trungs’ province to speak with their father, bringing along his son Thi Sach. The sisters and Thi Sach plotted with their fathers, and over time, Trac and Thi Sach fell in love and were married.

Then, the unthinkable happened in 40 A.D.; someone betrayed the Trungs’ and Thi Sach, revealing their plans to To Dinh. The governor acted swiftly, and Thi Sach was publicly executed.

Trac was devastated, and Nhi rushed to her side to comfort her. But Trac couldn’t be comforted. In fact, she wouldn’t be comforted—she didn’t feel grief any more. She felt rage. She wanted to avenge her husband’s death. She wanted to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam permanently. Nhi was thrilled, and was more than ready to join her sister’s cause … but how could they possibly raise an army? The Vietnamese didn’t have a standing army. They would have to build an army of volunteers. The Vietnamese were skilled in martial arts, but how could they be convinced to join an army?

That’s when Nhi remembered the monster. There was a huge, vicious tiger stalking and killing humans on the outskirts of the province. It had killed scores of people over several years, evading every attempt to capture or kill it. It was so feared that the peasants believed that it was a god.

But, if it could be killed … if Trac could kill it, and show that she was mightier than a god … then the people of Vietnam would flock to her. They would gladly serve her as soldiers in their army.

Trac immediately agreed, and, atop their elephants, Trac and Nhi went into the jungle. They tracked down the demon tiger and Trac slew it. She skinned the tiger, and Nhi took the hide, stretched it in a frame, and with Trac dictating wrote a proclamation upon it, then displayed it in the city square for everyone to see:

Foremost, I will avenge my country,

Second, I will restore the Hung lineage,

Third, I will avenge the death of my husband,

Lastly, I vow that these goals will be accomplished.

As Nhi predicted, the Vietnamese rallied around Trac, wanting to be part of the army led by the woman who killed a god. The Trung sisters picked thirty-six women to be their generals, including their own mother and a warrior woman named Phung Thi Chinh, who was heavily pregnant at the time.

Once their army was established and their soldiers and generals ready, the Trung sisters mounted their elephants and led a devastating attack that surprised and terrified the occupying Chinese. In one battle, a twin-sword wielding Phung Thi Chinh gave birth to a son on the battlefield. Not pausing for a second, she strapped her baby to her back, picked up her swords and fought her way back out to safety.

The Trungs’ battle tactics were so incredibly successful that the Chinese soon found themselves overwhelmed and outmaneuvered. The Trungs and their army of men and women showed absolutely no fear in battle, moving efficiently against their overlords. According to one story, an angry and desperate Chinese general ordered his soldiers to fight naked—this way the Vietnamese women would be shamed and forced to run from the battlefield, leaving the Vietnamese men outnumbered—but this seems extremely unlikely to have happened. What did happen, however, was a petrified To Dinh shaved his head and disguised himself as a monk in order to flee back to China. He knew that they had lost, and within months, the Chinese were completely gone.

The Vietnamese were ecstatic at their new freedom. They installed both Trung Trac and Trung Nhi as co-queens of Vietnam, but Trac’s skill in battle and confidence soon earned her the title, “Trung Vuong” or “She-King Trung,” and temples were raised in their honor. No records seemed to have survived from their rule, but it seems that the Trung sisters effectively ruled Vietnam.

But the sisters’ glorious reign did not last long; furious that they had lost Vietnam and especially outraged that they had lost to women, the Chinese unleashed a monstrously huge army on Vietnam in 43 A.D. The Trungs’ army rushed to stop them at the Hat Giang River on February 6, 43 A.D., but they were quickly pushed back. It very soon became obvious that the Vietnamese were going to lose … and if they were captured, Trac and Nhi would suffer horribly and die dishonorably. With no choice left, Trac and Trung took each other’s hands and together leapt off a cliff into the Hat Giang River, where they drowned in a traditional, honorable suicide.

Though Vietnam again fell to the Chinese, they experienced three years of freedom, and fought against the invaders every chance they had, the Vietnamese soldiers carrying pictures of the sisters with them as talismans of courage as they fought. Many believe that if it had not been for the Trung sisters’ efforts, there would not be a Vietnam today, and every February 6 is celebrated as a national holiday in their honor.

Trung Sisters works referenced:

Warrior Women, Robin Cross & Rosalin Miles 2011

Women Warriors, David E. Jones 2000

Women Warriors, Teena Apeles

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