Posted by: Alastair Rosie | January 19, 2014

The Trung Sisters



Mention Vietnam today and most people think of an Oliver Stone movie or Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. The Stone movie deals with America’s short-lived and disastrous involvement in Vietnam, the Greene novel references the earlier French occupation. Both colonial powers however were eclipsed by a much earlier coloniser, China, who from 111 BCE until 938 AD ruled Vietnam with an iron fist. Nevertheless far from being a passive province, Vietnam proved to be one of the most troublesome outposts of the Chinese empire and saw numerous revolts. The first of these recorded rebellions occurred in 40 AD and was led by Trung Trac and Trung Nhi.
The sisters came from a military family and received training in arms as a matter of course, which has led some historians to speculate that Vietnamese society before the Chinese invasion was matriarchal in structure. Their father was Hung Vuong, a prefect of Me Linh, who was married to Man Thien and their two daughters were Trac and Nhi.
Vietnamese resentment at Chinese rule was at boiling point due to the Chinese insistence that they take on Chinese customs. This Sinicisation was a bitterly resented factor of Han domination and a second but equally hated practice was land seizure in tandem with onerous taxation on salt, iron and other goods. These northern mandarins exploited the Vietnamese mercilessly and seemed to regard them as children of a lesser god. However trouble had been simmering for many years and seems to have reached a tipping point before the Trung revolt. Some years before, Trung Trac had married Thi Sach, the son of a chieftain from the neighbouring province of Chu Dien. On the Viettouch website it names them as military commanders although I’m apt to go with calling them governors who worked under and alongside their Chinese overlords but maintained an active interest in overthrowing their masters.
Thi Sach married the eldest sister, Trung Trac before 40 AD. Thi Sach apparently rebelled against the Chinese and was consequently executed by the Chinese military commander, To Dinh. It is also mentioned she was punished too but we can only speculate on that matter. What is beyond dispute is that far from cowing the populace this action enraged them and when Trung Trac stood on the banks of the Hat estuary in 40 AD she made three promises.
First she would avenge her country, secondly she would restore the Hung dynasty, and lastly she would avenge her husband’s death. The speech was made in front of 30,000 people and its immediate result was an instantaneous uprising that drove the Chinese from 65 towns including the citadel of Luy Lau where they defeated the army of To Dinh. It would appear they drove the Chinese from northern Vietnam because it is recorded they had fortresses constructed over the next three years. Traditional Vietnamese drawings show them riding elephants and they enjoyed the popular support of nobility and commoners.
This was to come to an end in 43 when the veteran campaigner, Ma Yuan invaded with a massive and well trained army. I can’t find much detail about the campaign or that final confrontation by a river but both Chinese and Vietnamese sources agree that the Vietnamese troops withdrew before the Chinese. The only tale I could find of the battle involves Phung Thi Chinh, a pregnant noblewoman who gave birth during the battle and continued fighting afterwards with baby in one hand and sword in the other and that is a feasible story. Phung ended her baby’s life after the battle and hurled herself into the river along with the Trung sisters.
Thus ended the rebellion but the two sisters would live on into history where their deeds would be recounted over and over, inspiring women to rise up first against the Chinese and later the French, Japanese and American occupations. Soldiers would carry pictures of the Trung sisters into battle against these imperialist aggressors. A temple, Ha Loi, located in the village of the same name is dedicated to them and supposed to be overlooking the Hat-Giang River where they ended their lives. Every March the Vietnamese remember their sacrifice on Hai Ba Trung day and they are accorded the status of national heroes. There are other temples dedicated to them as well as a main thoroughfare in Hanoi.
With that brief account we leave the Trung sisters. I’m sorry I can’t find more information let alone a book. Most of the sites I’ve visited give the same story with slight variations. I’ve listed three below, the Wikipedia link and two others. Perhaps some budding writer out there will be inspired to pen a fictional account of the Trung sisters.
Next we swing back westwards to Syria and the exploits of Zenobia.

Written by Alastair Rosie

Wikipedia link

Viettouch link also has a good basic history of Vietnam written by Vietnamese.

Take Back Halloween was included for the great visuals.


An exiled queen, a band of elves and the warrior cult known as the she bears are all that stands between General Bolksta and his conquest of Haydutia. Rhianna will need the luck of the gods if she is to hold back the tide of evil as an imperial army invades her country intent on turning Haydutia into just another province.

The Deepening Dark on Smashwords

The Deepening Dark on Amazon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: