The Trung Sisters vs China

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Katie Lambert: Hello, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sarah Dowdy: And I'm Sarah Dowdy.

Katie Lambert: And if you follow us on Twitter, at mistinhistory, or you're a Facebook fan of ours, I put up an opinion poll the other day asking one, if you would marry a dragon lord, and two, if you would bear him 100 eggs. There was a reason for that.

Sarah Dowdy: People are very opinionated about it for one thing, weren't they?

Katie Lambert: There were a lot of egg opinions, yes. Pro and anti-egg. But, you know, if your countries origin, mythology, includes dragon lords and dynasties that start with the hatching of 100 sons from 100 eggs, you have to do something pretty impressive to stand out in history, right?

Sarah Dowdy: Well, like, strap on your golden armor, rebel against your Chinese overlords and free your country, well, for a while at least.

Katie Lambert: For a while. So, our subjects today are the Trung Sisters and they're first century Vietnamese heroines and according to women in history, which was this great brand new multi-volume set of encyclopedia's I found at my local library -

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, check it out.

Katie Lambert: - they are considered models and inspiration for centuries of Vietnamese resistance against foreign occupation. So, pretty tall order there, right?

Sarah Dowdy: So, why were they rebelling? And to understand that, we have to go way back, although not quite all the way back to those 100 eggs, and instead we'll start with the last member of the egg-founded line of kings. The Hong Dynasty, which supposedly prevailed for centuries until the warlord Tok Fang, overthrew the Han King in either 258 or 257 B.C.

Katie Lambert: And Tok Fang forms a new kingdom and calls it Olok and it's not that long before this kingdom becomes part of a larger kingdom called Nam Viet which is ruled by a former Chinese general. And it's kind of interesting here but this is where mythology, the line that descends from those eggs, meets recorded history. So, despite being Chinese and despite ruling from [inaudible] the general adopts the native peoples' customs so this isn't quite Chinese rule yet. We're going to get to that later. This is still an independent kingdom.

Sarah Dowdy: Until 111 B.C. when after 100 years of trouble with the Chinese, Nam Viet is finally conquered by the Han emperor. The Vietnamese remain under Chinese control for 10 centuries always trying to assert themselves and regain their independence.

Katie Lambert: So, giving you some more information about the Chinese rule which is where our story will be set, the Chinese split up the empire into nine military districts and they do a lot of work to modernize the country, building roads, building harbors and waterways and they introduce some new, useful things for the people, new forms of agriculture, new weaponry. And they don't meddle too much with the local administration, at least at first, so there's not that much trouble initially.

Sarah Dowdy: They're letting the local futile lords do their ruling, just like they had before in the Nam Viet Kingdom and they're not trying to make the people Chinese. Think of this more as a Chinese protectorate and that lasts until the first century A.D. when the Han emperors decide they want more control because this country has some precious resources, forests, medals, ivory, pearls and lots of people who they can tax and make work, but most of all, they want control over the Red River Delta because international trade is picking up and the Chinese want to have control over the resources and the ports.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, so, at this point, the Chinese start going about trying to make the Vietnamese people Chinese people so imagine it's take our religion, learn our language, follow our customs, some of this it's okay for your average person, but as a whole, people don't go for it and according to Encyclopedia Britannica, even the educated Vietnamese who started to write only in Chinese, still speak their local language in private.

Sarah Dowdy

So, these minor acts of rebellion.

Katie Lambert: Exactly. People are not into this but whose ready to rebel in a much bigger way?

Sarah Dowdy: The Trung Sisters in AD 39 and, more specifically, Trung Tr?c and Trung Nh?.

Katie Lambert: So, the Trung Sisters have a few bones to pick with the Chinese I would say. They have two really good reasons to rebel and namely, they're daughters of the nobility and they're women. So, starting with the nobility point, the sisters are members of the landed aristocracy, they're born in Mah Ling and their father is a lack lord whose sort of futile lord. Their mother supposedly descended from that dragon lord line of kings so they're very fancy ladies and they've been trained up to be independent and patriotic and marshal.

Sarah Dowdy: Good at dragonry.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, exactly. So, the Chinese are obviously clamping down on this landed aristocracy. These are the people who hold the power and who have held the power for a long time so they placed Chinese officials in charge and they pile on taxes and obviously this is not popular with the lords. And the second reason has to do with their gender.

Sarah Dowdy: Right, these policies meant subordinating women because women had very different places in Vietnamese society than they did in Chinese society. For example, in Vietnamese society, they had legal rights, they could take the civil service exam and become bureaucrats or judges or work in trade and they could inherit property. After Chinese control, a woman's property belonged to her husband and if the couple didn't have a son, the husband was free to take another wife. I wouldn't stand for that either.

Katie Lambert: So, these are obviously some good reasons for the Trung Sisters to feel like maybe rebelling a bit. Well, then things get personal. That's when Trung Tr?c's husband, Thi Sách, who is a chiefed in and actually a son of a lack lord as well, is executed by the Chinese governor after he protest yet another tax increase. And his execution makes the local people very, very angry. And it makes Trung Tr?c's extremely angry.

Sarah Dowdy: So, angry she doesn't have time for mourning. She takes off the traditional mourning headdress, skips through the prescribed mourning rights and along with her younger sister, she starts stirring up the nobles and the peasants, enough is enough, and she writes an oath which Sarah will read for you.

Katie Lambert: I swear first to avenge the nation; second, to restore the Han's former position; third, to have revenge for my husband; fourth, to carry through to the end of our common task.

Sarah Dowdy: And remember this is a descendant of a dragon lord so listen up.

Katie Lambert: So, she's for real. So, the sisters start organizing their army and they make it from both men and women and they train 36 women as general, including their own mother, so this is a real family affair. One of the commanders, just as sort of a side note here to give you an idea of what these women were like, one of their commanders who was a noble woman named Phung Thi Chinh, supposedly gives birth in the middle of a battle, keeps on fighting with her baby tied to her back, so, for real, I don't know but still it's a pretty good story.

Sarah Dowdy: Well and how did everyone know that the Trung Sisters were legit? According to legend, Trung Tr?c killed a white tiger that no one else could kill, the sword and the tiger I guess, to prove that she was the woman for the job. And what should you do with the skin, of course but write your rebellious proclamation right on it.

Katie Lambert: Just imagining - what if the Declaration of Independence was written on a tiger skin?

Sarah Dowdy: Tiger skin, yes. And, if you want to impress people, of course you have to go all out. When Trung Tr?c's general, Tao Wha asked if the army could wear mourning clothes, she said absolutely not. Mourning could come after the governor is captured.

Katie Lambert: So, instead she straps on her gold armor which is carved with the Me-linh bird and puts on her belt trimmed with bells and supposedly the Chinese soldiers stop in their tracks when they see her, which isn't that hard to believe, right? So, obviously the first target is going to be the governor who killed Thi Sách.

Sarah Dowdy: They attack is his home and he flees and within the year, the sisters and their allies hold at 65 northern citadels. They have an army of 80,000 and they've defeated the occupying Chinese. At Me-linh in the year 40, they jointly proclaim themselves queens of an independent state and rule for two years freeing the prisoners of the Chinese and giving away the governors money, but back in China, the emperor is getting ready to take it all back.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, obviously the Chinese emperor is not going to stand for losing this valuable kingdom so he puts General Mah Yah in charge and the general doesn't have that much trouble re-conquering the kingdom until he finally runs into the Trung Armies southwest of Me-linh. And the Chinese of course have better trained troops and more supplies plus the Trung Sisters don't have the same momentum that they started out with. Some of the lords have left them by this point. And, so, they're defeated near Hanoi and from there, they're either caught by the Chinese or executed or they drown themselves where the Day and Red Rivers meet in AD 43, so, after crushing the rebellious sisters, the Han Emperors obviously crack down on the people of Vietnam.

Sarah Dowdy: And, for a time, there are only minor uprisings. We don't get our next major rebellion for nearly 200 years and this time it's led by Bà Tri?u, a 19-year-old noble woman who is sometimes called the Vietnamese Joan of Arc, but as we were talking about earlier, maybe Joan of Arc should be called the French Bà Tri?u since this girl obviously predates Joan of Arc. But in 248, she and her brother raise an army of a 1,000 fighters and after her brother is killed in battle, she takes over fighting in her golden armor on an elephants back. All of these women have golden armor.

Katie Lambert: I don't know where they get it.

Sarah Dowdy: Where do you get it?

Katie Lambert: I would like some.

Sarah Dowdy: So, this resistance movement lasts for six months before it too is crushed by the Chinese and Bà Tri?u also kills herself, but none of the subsequent revolts really work much better than that. The Chinese are very hard to get out of your country once there is occupying forces. So, finally, in the 10th Century just as the Tang Dynasty that rules China is starting to fall apart, we have a successful rebellion.

Katie Lambert: Ngô Quy?n defeats the Chinese at a battle on the B?ch Ð?ng River and in 939, the Vietnamese achieve independence. So, what is the legacy of our famous sisters?

Sarah Dowdy: The sisters are revered. They're revered today and they were revered shortly after their own deaths even. They helped keep the spirit of the people alive during that nearly thousand year-long period of Chinese occupation.

Katie Lambert: And during 20th Century conflicts in Vietnam, they became cult figures. Today you'll see a street in Saigon named for them and people celebrate the anniversary of their deaths.

Sarah Dowdy: Which is kind of another example of where we guess that a country really likes certain people?

Katie Lambert: Like we did with King Ludvic so if you have your own personal experience to share about how big the Trung Sisters are in Vietnam, please email us and let us know. It's

Sarah Dowdy: And I would also like to thank my good friend Trang for this episode.

Katie Lambert: Oh, yes, thank you, Trang.

Sarah Dowdy: She helped coach us with all the -

Katie Lambert: Very patiently.

Sarah Dowdy: - Vietnamese pronunciation so if we've made mistakes, they are ours and not hers.

Katie Lambert: It was nice to have a real live friend of ours to help us out because usually we're reduced to putting out a call on our Facebook fan page or on our Twitter at mistinhistory.

Sarah Dowdy: She's pretty helpful, too.

Katie Lambert: Exactly. For help, so if you're one of those people whose very good at pronunciation of foreign languages, please follow us.

Sarah Dowdy: You may be hearing from us.

Katie Lambert: And we also have a good quiz for you to take. This is where we found out about the Trung Sisters called Fact or Fiction: Vietnam, which you can find if you search our homepage at

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