Encyclopedia Womannica

Leaders: The Tru'ng Sisters

Episode Summary

Tru'ng Trac and Tru'ng Nhi (c. 12-c. 43) were a formidable pair of warrior queens who ruled their homeland for three years after successfully revolting against their Chinese occupiers.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s Leaders were a formidable pair of warrior queens who ruled their homeland for three years after successfully revolting against their Chinese occupiers. Though they lived nearly 2000 years ago, they are considered a national symbol of Vietnam to this day. Let’s talk about the Tru’ng Sisters.

Sisters Tru’ng Trac and Tru’ng Nhi were born in a rural village in what is now northern Vietnam sometime around the year 12 CE. 

There is little historical record of their early lives or background, but traditional Vietnamese lore and some Chinese sources hold that they came from a military family. 

At the time of their birth, the Chinese Han Dynasty controlled what’s now Vietnam, following a military victory a century earlier in 111 BCE. In order to administer the new territory, the Han set up nine commanderies. Three of these commanderies sat in what today is northern Vietnam, where the Tru’ng sisters were born. 

Vietnamese lore contends that their father was a prefect of the region who raised his daughters from a young age to be highly educated and very well-versed in the martial arts, martial history, fighting skills and strategy. As his only heirs, the Sisters were in line to share inheritance of their family’s holdings and titles, and their father wanted them to have all of the benefits that any son would have. 

From a young age, the sisters were also apparently exposed to the consistent cruelty of their Chinese rulers. The extent of that cruelty is unclear.  

What we know for sure is that there was significant unrest at the time in these newly acquired Han lands. Chinese rule became increasingly strict and they began imposing new laws on the region.

 The Chinese also began a policy of forced cultural assimilation. The Han saw the people on the fringes of the empire as lacking sophistication compared to the cosmopolitan Chinese and wanted to bring them in line with the prevailing cultural standards and trends. One can imagine how little these sentiments were appreciated by the people themselves.  

At some point in her early life, Tru’ng Trac married the son of a neighboring prefect. Soon after the marriage, as Chinese rule became more unbearable, Tru’ng Trac’s husband took a stand against the Han, and was executed.

Though the execution was meant to ward off further rebellious actions, it had the opposite effect. The Tru’ng sisters took up the banner and began fanning the flames of revolution. Their message spread like wildfire.

In the year 40, the Sisters took up arms and successfully kicked a small Chinese military unit out of their village. Though a seemingly small victory, this served as proof that the Chinese could be beaten. Soon the Sisters assembled a large army of mostly women fighters. 

According to Chinese historical accounts, within months the Sisters’ army had captured approximately 65 cities and liberated their homeland from Chinese rule. They are recorded by the Chinese as being incredible warriors.

The sisters became Queen Regnants of their recaptured homeland, and for three years they ruled, holding strong against the Han who consistently attempted to retake the region.

After three years, the Chinese put together a large military force led by a famous general to end the rebellion and reconquer the lost territory. In 43 CE, The Trung Sisters were defeated in battle. 

The fate of the Sisters is unknown. Some Vietnamese sources claim that the sisters died in battle after their forces deserted them. Some Chinese Sources say that the sisters were decapitated and their heads were sent back to the Han capital. Other accounts claim that the sisters committed suicide by jumping into a river to avoid capture. 

Regardless, the Tru’ng Sisters remain important national symbols of Vietnamese resistance, freedom, and independence to this day. The sisters can be found in Vietnamese folk art depicted as two women riding giant war elephants.  

Tune in tomorrow for the story of another Leader.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!