The Trưng Sisters, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị
Art by Michelle Dee (deviant art, tumblr 1, tumblr 2)
At the beginning of the common era, Vietnam was under Chinese control. Rebellion began to stir as Chinese rule became more intrusive with higher taxes, increased expectations of cultural assimilation, and harsher penalties for those who disagreed with the regime The aristocratic Trưng sisters were radicalized after Trưng Trắc’s husband, Thi Sách, was executed for anti-Chinese activities. In response, the Trưng Sisters raised an army of as many as 80,000 soldiers and drove the Chinese from Vietnam in 39 CE.
Vietnamese society of this period exhibited a high level of gender equality, which was a point of conflict between the Vietnamese and their patriarchal Han Chinese overlords. As daughters of a military leader, the Trưng Sisters received an education that prepared them for battle. Many other women served in the Trưng army including Phung Thi Chinh, a noblewoman who is said to have given birth on the battlefield and continued to fight with her baby on her back.
The Trưng Sister’s ruled as co-regents until they were defeated by the Chinese in 43 CE. They were either beheaded by their opponents (Chinese accounts) or chose to drown themselves rather than surrender (Vietnamese accounts). China remained in control of Vietnam until the Early Lý Dynasty came to power in 544 CE.