Mulan isn’t the only heroic female warrior in history. Many others are deserving of international recognition, including the two sisters who fought to liberate Vietnam from initial Chinese rule centuries ago.
Hai Bà Trưng: Trung Trac and Trung Nhi grew up in the rural part of the country called Giao Chi, close to the current capital. The sisters were famously known as Hai Bà Trưng later on.
Their father was a powerful Vietnamese nobleman and military general, who invested in the education of his daughters. He became one of many puppet leaders who answered to Chinese governor To Dinh after the defeat of the country in 111 B.C.
However, the leaders would do everything in their power to stand up to Chinese rule as often as possible. Women had equal rights to inherit land, could become judges and soldiers — a harsh contrast to the patriarchal system of the dominating government.
The sisters were well-versed in literature and skilled in martial arts, which would set them up for success in leading a future army.
No weeping widow: The older sister, Trung Trac, married a nobleman named Thi Sach who was executed by the Chinese government as an example. Although the reason wasn’t clear, Thi Sach opposed the Han dynasty and To Dinh. He allegedly led military campaigns to rebel and stop the southward spread of the Han dynasty.
When Trung Trac learned of his fate, rather than go into mourning, she announced, “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.”
Along with her younger sister, Trung Trac rallied an army of around 80,000 fighters, a large majority of them women, to launch their own rebellion against a foreign power. The sisters had intense charisma and intelligence that made others listen and rally behind them.
The legend goes that in order to prove their worth, the sisters killed a tiger that was harming others.
With her sister by her side, Trung Trac was able to convince the Vietnamese lords to rebel against the Chinese in 39 A.D. The pair started their fight at the Red River Delta and took over Chinese strongholds in Vietnam as well as freed the ancient kingdom of Nanyue.
The sisters trained their top picks in their army, all women, to become generals and to strategize more complicated military campaigns.
By 40 A.D., Hai Bà Trưng’s army had driven the Chinese out of the country. That same year, the eldest sister was proclaimed as the queen of Northern Vietnam, while her sister was a top advisor. The area of the sisters’ rule reached 65 cities and towns, with their own royal court located in Me-linh.
A lasting legacy: The sisters were defeated in 43 A.D. by General Ma Yuan at Lang Bac, the present-day site of Hanoi, who had greater resources and trained soldiers.
It is unclear what happened to the sisters following their defeat.
Popular folklore speculates the sisters committed suicide by drowning in a river. Another tale suggested the sisters “disappeared into the clouds.” Yet another story told that the sisters were beheaded by the general who had defeated them.
Nevertheless, the sisters were hailed as heroes and have not been forgotten to this day, with memorial ceremonies annually held at a Hanoi temple named after them, their names in legends, postcards, and plays. The pagoda dedicated to the sisters is named Hai Ba (“Two Sisters”) in Hanoi.
There is also a national holiday named after them called Hai Ba Trung Day.
The heroic acts of the sisters show that women can really do it all, without having to hide, and maybe ride an elephant while doing it like they did in battle.
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