Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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The Trung Sisters

(died 42 AD)

The Trung sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, were daughters of a powerful Vietnamese lord who lived at the beginning of the first century. At the time, Vietnam was under the rule of the Chinese Han Dynasty. Vietnamese women still had many rights which they inherited through their mothers' lineages, while in China women had lost their privileges due to the popular teachings of Confucius requiring women's subservience.

Vietnamese people did not actively oppose the Chinese rule until the year 39 AD when they began to feel oppressed. To frighten the Vietnamese and bring them to submission, a Chinese commander raped Trung Trac and killed her husband. In retaliation, the Trung sisters organized a rebellion. With the support of various tribal lords, they formed an army of about 80,000 men and women. Thirty-six of the generals were women, including the Trung sisters' mother.

The Trung sisters led their army in an attack on the Chinese forces occupying their land. They won back the territory extending from Hue into southern China and they were proclaimed co-queens. Their royal court was established in Me-linh, an ancient political center in the Hong River plain.

In the year 42 C.E., the Chinese forces were sent to recapture the region. The queens and their people fought hard to resist the invader. One close comrade of the Trung sisters, a woman named Phung Thi Chinh, led one of the armies of resistance. She apparently fulfilled her mission despite being pregnant at the time. She delivered her baby at the front, hoisted the baby onto her back and continued fighting. However, in the end the Vietnamese troops were defeated. According to the popular belief, the Trung sisters elected to take their own lives in the traditional manner: by jumping into a river and drowning. Loyal Phung Thi Chinh did likewise. The Trung sisters became symbols of the first Vietnamese resistance to the Chinese occupation of their land. Temples were later built in their honor and the people of Vietnam celebrate their memory every year with a national holiday.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Bibliography:
1. Herstory. Women Who Changed the World, edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, Viking, 1995. The Trung Sisters profile by Lyn Reese.
2. The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War by Antonia Fraser, Vintage Books, 1994

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