There’s a saying in Vietnamese culture that describes extremely strong women, either possessing amazing physical strength, or strong conviction in their morals leading up to great acts of honor, like standing up against enemies , entire nations, and anything in between. We call these women con cháu Bà Trưng Bà Triệu, or loosely translated, the daughters of Trưng and Triệu. The Trưng sisters and Triệu Ẩu (also known by Triệu Thị Thinh) are real women who ascended to Vietnamese folklore status through their heroic acts. For Women’s History Month, UNAVSA would like to commemorate these strong Vietnamese women who have been key leaders in shaping the history of Vietnam and defying the Confucian-defined gender roles that were brought from China. With the constant socio-economic changes in Vietnam, people have been distraught and have risen up to voice their opinions on these issues; many of whom are women. Here are a few in the past that have shaped the beginning for females expressing their concerns of Vietnam:
Hai Bà Trưng
The Trung Sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, also known as, “Hai Ba Trung” in Vietnamese are best known for their involvement in leading a rebellion against the first Chinese regime under the Han Dynasty. Their goals were to liberate the Vietnamese people from the rules, oppression and exploitation that the Chinese government were putting them under. When faced with adversity such as the execution of one of their husbands, they were not afraid to unite and take a stance for their country and their people. They were charismatic leaders who were able to gather over 80,000 supporters, many of who were women.
Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were the first two women to lead a successful rebellion to overthrow the Chinese Han dynasty tyrants. Their names were derived from the traditional silkweaving of Vietnam, meaning “egg one” and “egg two” (Nguoi Ke Su). Two sisters in families are also considered con gái hai bà trưng as well! This iconic movement demonstrated their leadership, resilience, and perseverance. Scholars of Southeast Asian culture often cite the Trung Sisters as groundbreaking figures in the history of Vietnam as their story gives Vietnamese women a narrative outside the traditional domestic or household roles.
The elder sister Trưng Trắc was the widow of Thi Sach, the lord of Diễn Châu in Northern Vietnam who was assassinated because he was plotting with the other lords to overthrow the Chinese dynasty. Soon after his assassination, Trưng Trắc assumed the leadership of the movement. Together, the two sisters and the rest of the aristocracy marched to Lien Lau, which caused the Chinese commander to flee. In the legends, it was told that the two sisters would ride elephants into battle.
After a year, the Trưng sisters and their allies held 65 northern citadels. Though the movement was strong, without support of commoners, supplies and trained military forces, they were quickly defeated by Chinese general Ma Yuan and his troops. They defeated the Trung sisters at Lăng Bác (near the present site of Hanoi) and Hat Mon, now known as Son Tay. Shortly thereafter the defeat, both sisters, feeling distraught, tragically took their own lives. Their death anniversary is highly celebrated as a holiday in Vietnam due to their bravery demonstrated throughout the rebellion. The Trưng sisters’ involvement marked the start of Vietnamese females rebelling against the Han Dynasty, solidifying their importance in Vietnamese history.
Triệu Thị Thinh, the Vietnamese Joan of Arc
Although there were many rebellions against the Chinese, Lady Trieu’s rebellion was known as one of the more notable ones. Orphaned as a child in Vietnam, Trieu Thi Thinh lived in a small village with her little brother. During the time that she was alive, the Chinese were in power over Vietnam. She saw how the Chinese people were treating her people so she decided to run to the countryside, set up an army base and trained about 1,000 rebels to fight against the Chinese. Her brother was against her leading the rebellion, and the two of them kept butting heads throughout. Lady Trieu was strong-headed and persisted on with with the rebellions against the Chinese. She was very determined to give the Vietnamese people freedom. A famous quote she was known to say to her brother was: “I will not resign myself to the lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines. I wish to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I have no desire to take abuse.”
Before she even turned 21, she had over 30 successful battles against the Chinese. According to legends, she was over 9 feet tall and she rode an elephant into battle. Legends also told that she was also known to be wearing gold armor and have a sword in each hand while she rode into battle, fighting for her life each time . Due to her voice being loud and strong, it motivated the rebels to follow her.
Eventually, the Chinese defeated her in battle which plunged her into depression. Like the Trung sisters, Thinh tragically took her own life due to the unbearable sadness. For women in the time of a patriarchal society, it was regarded highly for females to rise into power and fight for the freedom of their country. The movements of women fighting for freedom and rights for Vietnam empowered other women, thus breaking many gender barriers.
Due to the notable feats of these female individuals, the term “con cháu Bà Trưng Bà Triệu” was coined. A lot of strong and fearless women we know today can be called this, and we can probably think of a few off the top of our heads right now! These women have influenced the way Vietnamese women stand up to face difficulties and concerns in Vietnam, and empower other individuals to stand up for what they believe in.
Vietnam has been able to witness dramatic socio-economic changes throughout the years and continue to do so with the help of programs like: the United Nations Development Program . Armed with the knowledge and the history of some prominent Vietnamese women, UNAVSA hopes more females are empowered to change modern society. Whether it be in North America, Vietnam, or any part of the world, women make a difference for the betterment of society!