THE TRUNG SISTERS – Trung Trac and her sister Trung Nhi occupy a special place in Vietnamese mythology. If you want a glib or simplistic comparison to approach their story with think of them as an ancient Vietnamese version of Lakshmibai of Jhansi in the history of India or Joan of Arc in Western lore. In the early 40’s C.E. Trung Trac led an uprising against the latest Chinese occupiers withher sister acting in a much smaller capacity according to all accounts but the Trung Sisters are always mentioned as a team and iconography usually depicts them together astride their battle elephant.
Trung Trac’s uprising, consisting largely of former noble families and by all accounts (even on the Chinese side) large numbers of female combatants, succeeded in driving the occupying forces far to the north. She then abolished all the Chinese taxes and restored Vietnamese-style rule. Traditionally sixty-five major cities proclaimed themselves under her rule and stood against the Chinese attempts to retake the ancient equivalent of Vietnam.
The area under Trung Trac was semi-autonomous (to what degree of course varies from history book to history book) from approximately 40 C.E. to 43 C.E. before the armies she and her sister led were defeated. She and her sister were beheaded and their heads reportedly presented to the Han ruler in China at the time.
POSTHUMOUS MYTHOLOGY – Over the centuries poets and scholars would revive and embellish the story of the Trung Sisters to provide popular inspiration against whatever occupying force the Vietnamese people were rising against, from the Chinese through the French Colonial forces, etc. Trung Sisters imagery was even being used by the North Vietnamese to encourage popular hostility to the U.S. and its allies during the Vietnam War. They began to be referred to as The Sister Queens even though Trung Nhi seems to have played a much less active role than Trung Trac.
The reverential attitude toward the sisters grew to the point of outright worship and they were invoked as god-like guardian figures of the Vietnamese people and as embodiments of whatever nationalistic feeling the tale-spinners of the time wanted to present. (Sort of like two female versions of Uncle Sam in that respect) Since mythology is often all about keeping royal families in power through pretended dynastic legitimacy the Trung Sisters were frequently presented as a direct link from the ruling families of the time period on back to the legendary Hung Vuong Dynasty.
The ladies were even depicted as ethereal protectors of the “Dragon’s Belly” area that eventually became Hanoi. Eventually the sisters were prayed to for reasons not related to national resistance to outside forces, too. King Ly Anh-Tong (1138-1175) prayed to the Trung Sisters for rain during a drought and when the rains came claimed he had a dream in which the sisters, as always astride their battle elephant, were the dispensers of that rain, which flowed like a fountain from the trunk of their elephant. Other versions say he dreamed of them riding a giant iron horse like the war god Than Giong.
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