the Trung sisters
Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were women; they gave one shout and all the
prefectures of Cuu-chan, Nhat-nam, and Ho-p'u, along with sixty-five
strongholds beyond the passes, responded to them, and, establishing
the nation, they proclaimed themselves queens as easily as turning over
their hands, which shows that our land of Viet was able to establish
a royal tradition. What a pity that, for a thousand years after this,
the men of our land bowed their heads, folded their arms, and served
the northerners; how shameful this is in comparison with the two Trung
sisters, who were women!
Ah, it is enough to make one want to die!
Historian Le Van Huu, 13th century
All the male heroes bowed their heads
Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country.
A 15th century poem
Trung Trac, angry with the tyrannical Han governor, raising her hand
and giving a shout, all but united and restored our country. Her heroic
courage was not limited to her lifetime achievements of establishing
the nation and proclaiming herself queen, but after her death she also
resisted misfortune, for, in times of flood or drought, prayers to her
spirit have never gone un-answered. And it is the same with her younger
sister. Because they had both the virtue of scholars and the temperament
of warriors, there are no greater spirits in all of heaven and earth.
Should not all great heroes nurture an attitude of upright hauteur such
as they had?
Historian Ngo Si Lien, 15th century.
The Han emperor was extremely furious:
This insignificant speck of a Giao-chi!
And it was not even a man,
But a mere girl who wielded the skill of a hero!
A 17th century poem
The imperial court was far away; local officials
were greedy and oppressive. At that time the country of one hundred
sons was the country of the women of Lord To. The ladies used the female
arts against their irreconcilable foe; skirts and hairpins sang of patriotic
righteousness, uttered a solemn oath at the inner door of the ladies
quarters, expelled the governor, and seized the capital-the territories
from Cuu-chan to Ho-p'u again saw the light of day. Were they not grand
From antiquity, women have played a conspiratorial role. For example,
Empress Lu of Han and Empress Wu of T'ang were able to command China
with loud threatening noises, like wind and thunder, but the rightful
heirs of the one great heritage of the everlasting First Emperor [Ch'in
Shih Huang Ti] were cheated, taken advantage of, treated contemptibly,
and ridden roughshod over by women using deception and intimidation,
who, in the end, were simply criminals, "gone forever."
On the other hand, our two ladies brought forward an army of all the
people, and, establishing a royal court that settled affairs in the
territories of sixty-five strongholds, shook their skirts over the Hundred
Yiieh. In the south, they were proclaimed sovereign lords, in the same
class as Martial Emperor Trieu [Chao T'o] and Southern Emperor Ly [Ly
Bi], inspiring later generations to call them queens. Still, they did
not follow the advice of others. They died at the defeat of Cam-khe
in the spirit of uprightness and in purity of mind, towering in the
midst of the vast universe, bringing men to their feet sighing afectionately
over their memory. Were those hens that crowed at dawn during Han and
T'ang even worthy of being the hibiscus-capped, green-gowned attendants
of our two Trung ladies?
Today, their temple is at An-hat in Phuc-loc. The temple hall is majestic
and well cared for. People enter with dignity and depart with reverence.
On festival days for welcoming the spirits, the local people perform
in battle array with elephants and horses; their bearing is truly frightening.
An-lang and Ha-loi also observe ceremonial sacrifices to the spirits
of the Trung ladies, using imperially appointed implements. The ancestral
images in these places are magnificent. Travelers passing by these shrines
stop and visit. Literary men and poets, coming and going like the shuttle
of a loom, spontaneously intone the theme [of their heroism]; thus,
the two immortal ladies will never die.
Now, in these days, there are the Chaste Widow of Trao-nha and the Pure
Wife of Ty-ba who are unanimously acclaimed for their uprightness and
for whom the whole nation laments! It was the same kind of resolute
appeal that pushed out the borders of the Trung queens' territory. It
cannot be denied that this appeal, beginning in Me-linh, swallowed Chu-dien,
echoed through Nhat-nam, and cleared accounts at Lang-bac; was not this
an aiffair of "lifting the heavens and pulling up the earth"?
Scholar Cao Huy Dieu, 1715.
A woman proudly led a young nation;
Even the Han emperor heard of it and was terrified.
A 19th century poem
"cloud of hair, snow-white shoulders, fragrant
breath, skin of ivory ... a smile more joyous than a blossoming flower,"
leading her army against the Chinese...
Lii Chia refused treasonous bribes;
Trung Trac raised her shield to resist oppressors.
The Sung poet and calligrapher, Huang T'ing-chien (1054-1105), celebrating
the exploits of heroes on the southern fron-tier, compared Trung Trac
with Lii Chia, who resisted Han Wu Ti's armies in the name of Nan Yiieh
in III B.C.
The greatness of the two women from Me-linh, and of all the brave people
of the year 40, was in their realization that thousands of ancient customs
and habits carried the soul of the nation; they thereupon arrived at
a time when a question fraught with responsibility was placed before
an the people and before history; was this life of the people, together
with independence and freedom, worth defending with flesh and blood?
People of the four directions, from the territories of the old Hung
kings, seizing their weapons and standing up as one, answered-answered
for themselves and for all later generations.
In the end, the uprising failed. Ancient Viet civilization was destroyed.
But this was a "death that did not become death," as history eventually
saw. Even if the ancient Viet people had not risen up in the year 40,
Dong-son culture still would not have survived, whether by enticement
or coercion. It would have faded and fallen into ruin by degrees. At
the same time, the memory of the Hung kings and the idea of a common
Viet people would have melted away. But Dong-son culture poured itself
out in the towering, flaming tongue of a courageous struggle. Along
with resentment, the memory of this was deeply engraved in the feelings
of the people. That is the secret of a miraculous phenomenon not easy
to see in history: though oppressed by a foreign country for a thousand
years, the will that "we are we" among our people was not something
that could be shaken loose.
Archeologist Pham Huy Thong, 1975.