How Two Vietnamese Sisters Led a Revolt Against Chinese Invaders—in the 1st Century

Long before women revolutionaries like Joan of Arc and Catherine of Aragon, two high-born Vietnamese sisters rallied their people in order to fight against oppression. Known simply as the Trung sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi raised an army and went to battle in order to protect their ancestral homeland in the year 43 AD.

In the 2,000 years since their deaths, the legend of the Trung sisters has come to represent Vietnamese nationalism—and a rare moment in which two young women ruled an independent nation pushing back against colonial repression.

Sisters Trung Trac and Trung Nhi had led charmed lives before the violence that led them to organize their people. As daughters of the general who ran the district of Giao Chi (in present-day northern Vietnam), the sisters were tutored in literature and studied martial arts alongside their father.

When the Han Chinese first invaded the area now known as Vietnam in 111 BC, they immediately installed several local rulers to act as conduits for Chinese interests. Among those local leaders was the Trung sisters’ father—who, like several of the other installed rulers, did manage to push back against the Chinese on occasion in order to protect the interests of the local people.

Southeast Asian society at the time was quite progressive when it came to women’s rights, especially when regarding educational access and property ownership. “It was a society where women had a lot of rights,” says Keith Taylor, a professor of Sino-Vietnamese cultural studies at Cornell University. “From what we can tell from society at that time, women did have a very high status. People inherited property, and their social position, and a lot of other rights through their mothers and their fathers.”

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