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Trưng Sisters

Trưng Sisters
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Hai Bà Trưng
Hán-Nôm 𠄩婆徵
Literal meaning Two ladies Trưng

The Trưng sisters (c. 12 – c. AD 43) were Vietnamese military leaders who ruled for three years after rebelling against Chinese rule in 40 AD, and are regarded as national heroines of Vietnam. Their names were Trưng Trắc (徵側) and Trưng Nhị (徵貳).

The sisters were born in Giao Chỉ province in what is now 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.


  • Historical background 1
  • Sources 2
    • Book of the Later Han, 5th century 2.1
    • Excerpts from Complete Annals of Đại Việt, 1479 2.2
    • Traditional Vietnamese account 2.3
      • Rebellion 2.3.1
      • Defeat 2.3.2
  • Cultural significance 3
    • Nationalism 3.1
    • Temples 3.2
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Historical background

The former Qin commander Triệu Đà (Zhao Tuo) conquered Vietnam and renamed the country Nam Việt (Nanyue).[1] The Emperor Wu of Han dispatched soldiers against Nam Việt, and the kingdom was annexed in 111 BC. Nine commanderies were established to administer the region,[2] though only three of which located in modern-day Vietnam. Revolts against the Han began in 40 AD, led by the Trưng sisters.[3]


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 189AD. The secondary source, but 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

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:

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 example and did so. 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

The third book of Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (Complete Annals of Dai Viet),[4] published in editions between 1272 and 1697, has the following to say about the Trưng Sisters:

Procession of elephants in the Trưng Sisters's Parade in Saigon, 1957
Lê Văn Hưu (one of the historians editing the annals) wrote:

Traditional Vietnamese account

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 [5] during the visit, and they were soon married.

A statue of the Trưng Sisters in Ho Chi Minh City


With Chinese rule growing extremely exacting, and the policy of forcible assimilation into the Chinese mold during their expansion southward, Thi Sách made a stand against the Chinese. The Chinese responded by executing Thi Sách [6] 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. Within months, they had taken many (about 65) citadels from the Chinese, and had liberated Nam Việt.[7] They became queens of the country, and managed to resist subsequent Chinese attacks on Việt Nam 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 and committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Hát River in AD 43.

According to legend, Phùng Thị Chính, a pregnant captain of a group of soldiers who were to protect the center of Việt Nam, gave birth on the front line. With her baby in one arm, and a sword in the other, she continued to fight the battle. She committed suicide along with the Trưng sisters and also took her newborn baby's life.

Cultural significance


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, occurring in February, to commemorate their deaths is observed by many Vietnamese. A district in Hanoi called the Hai Bà Trưng District is named after them. In addition, numerous large streets in major cities[8] and many schools are named after them.

The stories of the Trưng Sisters and of another famous woman warrior, Triệu Thị Trinh, are cited by some historians 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 2,000 years ago, its legacy in Vietnam remains.[9] 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 a 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, as the two Trưng Nữ Vương, are found from as early as the end of the Third Chinese domination of Vietnam.[10] The best known Hai Bà Trưng Temple is in Hanoi near Hoàn Kiếm Lake.[11][12] Other Hai Bà Trưng temples are found in Mê Linh District (Vĩnh Phúc Province), Phúc Thọ District (Hà Tây) and Hoàng Hoa Thám Street, Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City.


  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. ^ Holcombe, Charles (2001). The Genesis of East Asia: 221 B.C. - A.D. 907. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 149–150.  
  2. ^ 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.  
  3. ^ Gernet, Jacques (1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 126.  
  4. ^ "Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư - Kỷ Thuộc Hán" (in Vietnamese). Institute of Social Studies Vietnam. 1993. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  5. ^ "thiết ke biet thự vươn Hai Bà Trưng Hà Nội"
  6. ^ "Cải tao nha tập thê Thi Sách Hà Nội"
  7. ^ Nola Cooke, Tana Li, James Anderson The Tongking Gulf Through History 2011- Page 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. ^ Vietnam Country Map. Periplus Travel Maps. 2002–03.  
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ The Birth of Vietnam - Page 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."
  11. ^ Lonely Planet Vietnam 10 - Page 97 Nick Ray, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Iain Stewart - 2009 this temple (Map pp88-9; 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..
  12. ^ Philip Taylor Modernity and Re-Enchantment: Religion in Post-Revolutionary Vietnam Page 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 ..

External links

  • Trưng sisters Tuyet A. Tran & Chu V. Nguyen
Preceded by
First Chinese domination of Vietnam
Rulers of Vietnam
Succeeded by
Second Chinese domination of Vietnam
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