photo w. Leica M6 © Chi D. Nguyen

 

T r u n g    T r a c    &    T r u n g    N h i

F o r e w o r d

The historical vignettes presented on these pages are intended to honour the courageous spirit of the Trung sisters whose inspiration continues to flourish in the hearts and minds of the 20th century Vietnamese people. Our brief extrapolation is by no means, a complete historiography but, rather highlighting fundamental characters and resilient courage that underline our heritage. Our ancestors had fought against all odds and died in defense of human rights, dignity and independence. These tenets are not only universal but, also timeless. We believe that by understanding the past, we can help assure that future generations are not held captive by time dissociation and detachment to the concept of self-determination. We wish the viewer(s) an inspiring journey back in time to meet these magnificent warriors.

 

During the 1,000 years under Chinese control, the Vietnamese people engaged in a continual struggle against their ruler. In 3 BC, a large amount of Chinese mandarins invaded Nam Viet, taking over land and farms previously owned by Vietnamese people. The Chinese also made demands to the Viet people in the form of high tributary payments. They monopolized the production of salt and iron for their personal gains. They also forced assimilation of its culture throughout the population.

The struggles were often led by various members of the Vietnamese aristocracy. The skirmishes between the Chinese authority and Vietnamese people occurred mainly in the outer Tonking provinces. One of these uprisings in 39 AD was led by two women, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi.

In 36 AD, Su Ting (To Dinh) replaced Tich Quang as governor of Giao Chi was significantly dishonest and greedy. In "Dong Quan Han Ky", the author wrote: "His eyes widened at the sight of money." These Hans demanded bribes, levied unreasonable taxation on salt and handicraft products. They also taxed the local people for fishing from the rivers. They oppressed the Vietnamese people, their children and families. Both the peasant and Au Lac gentry classes deeply resented the colonialist government.

King Hung Vuong came from Me Linh (present time, Ha Tay Vinh Phu provinces). Years later, one of his descendants was named prefect of Me Linh. Although he worked for the Hans, he continued to maintain his personal affection for his country people. It was due to his patriotism that he gained the love and trust of the populace. His wife, Man Thien was equally committed to the same affection and purpose towards the people. They had two daughters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi. These young women grew up witnessing the cruel Chinese treatment of the Vietnamese people. Their compassion for the people fueled their deep-seated hatred of the Chinese. They spent their time studying the art of warfare, weaponry and fighting skills.

Chu Dien, located next to the town of Me Linh (presently, Dan Phuong of Ha Tay and Tu Liem zone of Hanoi suburb) was a large, populated and wealthy province. The military chief of Chu Dien was a chivalrous and indomitable man. His son, Thi Sach was also greatly interested in military sciences and weaponry. He spent a great deal of effort in mastering the art of warfare. His goals were to rise up against the Chinese.

The two military leaders of Chu Dien and Me Linh were close friends. They often visited with each other. Their discussions frequently involved the miserable state of the Viet people who suffered under the cruelties of To Dinh and Han officers as well as their soldiers. They planned and plotted to fight against the Chinese. They vowed to drive the aggressors out of Nam Viet.

Thi Sach, although youthful was often permitted to attend the military planning meetings with the Me Linh chief and other leaders from the neighboring areas. He aspired to avenge his country by using his acquired war waging skills. He recruited other young men and women patriots to join his insurrection against the Chinese.

During one of his visits with his father to the headquarter of the Me Linh military chief, Thi Sach met the Trung sisters. Shortly thereafter, he befriended one of the sisters, Trung Trac. As time passed, the sentiment between Thi Sach and Trung Trac developed into a romantic interest which resulted in a marriage. The united couple from two military families gave hope to the villagers.

The nature of exploitation and forced assimilation of Vietnamese people by the Hans became increasingly ruthless. Thi Sach and his wife, Trung Trac violently opposed and protested against these Chinese practices. Their resistance so enfuriated the Chinese that Su Ting ordered the execution of Thi Sach as a warning to other Vietnamese rebels. This cruel act had provoked the Vietnamese people instead. The local population and military leaders jointly declared war on the Hans.

On 2.6.40 AD, Trung Trac stood in full military regalia to address the 30,000 soldiers gathered at the Hat estuary. She set her personal tragedy aside by not wearing the traditional mourning attire. She vowed revenge on behalf of her people and husband. She formidably declared to her soldiers these memorable words:

 

Mt xin ra sch nc th
Hai xin
em li nghim xa h Hng
Ba k
o oan c lng chng
B
n xin vn vn s cng lnh ny

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.


Trung Trac

source: Thien Nam Ngu Luc, 17th century

 

Trung Trac and her sister, Trung Nhi, rallied their troops to fight against the Chinese. Within months, the Trung sisters armed with military skills and passion for independence had regained control of 65 citadels, including Luy Lau citadel where they defeated To Dinh and his soldiers. They kept the Chinese military power out of Nam Viet for two years. The Trung sisters reigned as queens to the country. The short-lived liberation received wide support from the nobility and peasants throughout Nam Viet. By 43 AD, the Chinese had amassed large battalions of soldiers to retaliate against the Trung queens which resulted in the Chinese re-occupation of Nam Viet. The Trung sisters committed suicide in the Hat River (Hat Giang) rather than surrendering to their conqueror.

During the 43 AD Chinese incursion to Nam Viet, a warrior friend of the Trung sisters was Phung Thi Chinh, a pregnant noblewoman from Son Tay province, was in charge of protecting the central flank of Nam Viet. She led her troops against the indomitable Chinese general, Ma Yuan (Ma Vien). She delivered her child at the battlefront. She carried her newborn while "brandishing her sword to open an escape route in the ranks of the enemy". When she discovered that the Trung sisters had committed suicide. She too, ended her life and that of her baby.

Nam Viet's short-lived independence was followed by the Chinese cruel punishment of inflicting harsh physical tortures, psychological and cultural oppression of the Vietnamese people. Ma Yuan oversaw the operation that destroyed Vietnamese estates, executed hundreds of noblemen, humiliated many, and exiled the remaining members of the aristocracy to South China. They proceeded to set up garrisons at numerous strategic points throughout Nam Viet to guard against potential uprisings. Nam Viet was divided into three prefectures with fifty-six districts, controlled by the Chinese. The Chinese resumed their program of forcing the Vietnamese to absorb their culture. The Hans destroyed a great deal of Vietnamese history by altering texts and revising literature to suit their image. They forced the Vietnamese intellectuals to conform to their philosophical and cultural practices.

It's an important reminder that there were numerous rebellious outbreaks occurring during those dark and brutal years of Chinese occupation. These violent rebellions were more often led by women warriors. Throughout history, Vietnamese women have been vigorously involved in Vietnamese military and political affairs.

For centuries, the Vietnamese people glorified the Trung sisters through literature and monuments. There were many heroic legends about the Trung sisters which inspired the Vietnamese people for centuries in their resistance of foreign domination.

There were numerous pagodas built to memorialize the Trung sisters and their legacy. The two most famous pagodas were the Hai Ba, in Hanoi, and the Hat Mon in Son Tay province. The Government of Viet Nam has proclaimed them national warriors. To date, Vietnamese women and men continue to honor these heroines on Hai Ba Trung day in March. It has been known that soldiers in battles would carry pictures of the Trung sisters as a source of inspiration to fight for freedom. Trung Trac's words were deeply embedded in their souls.

Tuyet A. Tran & Chu V. Nguyen

Foreword & Translation of Loi Ba Trung Trac: Tuyet A. Tran
References: Lich su Viet Nam, Trials and Tribulations of a Nation & The Birth of Viet Nam