Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty is well known for its ability to conquer his adversaries and expand his own dynasty. In 112 B.C. the Han dynasty deployed a small army of 2,000 soldiers to conquer Nanyue (modern day Vietnam). This small army started their campaign strongly conquering smaller city states on the coast with little to no resistance until they approached Panyu and were ambushed by Nanyue warriors and were completely wiped out. As expected this didn’t go over well with an enraged Emperor Wu who retaliated by sending a force of 100,000 militants to invade in 111 B.C. It comes as no surprise that Nanyue was conquered within 6 months of the troops deployment and Chinese rule was established and Confucianism was instilled by the winter of the same year.
As is the case with most people after being conquered the Vietnamese people were in a constant state of fear and questions arose about the way things were being run by their Chinese conquerors. Within 10 years Emperor Wu has conquered as far west as modern-day Kyrgyzstan and to the Korean peninsula in the East with an ever expanding army. To fund this army Emperor Wu would often raise taxes exponentially and would confiscate property from the wealthy as well as the field workers with erroneous charges. These types of actions began to make the peoples of the dynasty upset, however, no real actions would be taken until well after Emperor Wu’s death and the second rise of the Han dynasty under Emperor Guangwu.
In Northern Vietnam there was Vietnamese man named Thi Sach who conspired revolt against the Chinese, when the emperor found out he had the man assassinated in 39 C.E. The mans wife, Trung Trac, was so outraged by the murder that she took control of her former husbands revolutionary plans with the help of her sister Trung Nhi. The Trung sisters pushed back a small force of Chinese who were attempting to capture their town, shortly thereafter the Trung sisters quickly amassed a large army of 80,000 people, including several woman generals, and pushed against the Chinese appointed governor Su Ding. The Trung army was surprisingly more powerful than Su Ding expected pushing and liberating 69 citadels in their reign. Once the Trung sisters liberated modern-day Haiphong, the Trung sisters proclaimed themselves joint queens of an autonomous Vietnamese state which extended from southern china to central Vietnam.
After their 3 year push and the liberation of Vietnam, Emperor Guangwu dispatched a large force led by the great general Ma Yuan to counter push the Trung sisters and reclaim the land they previously owned. Ma yuan’s forces made swift work of the Trung sisters armies and recaptured a fair amount of land relatively quickly. Ashamed by their defeat the Trung sisters followed tradition and committed suicide by throwing themselves into the Red River. Traditional Vietnamese lore says that they ascended to the heavens and watch down on the Vietnamese people while granting them luck in battle.
The Trung sisters are still celebrated today as heroines and as a symbol of the first resistance to push against foreign occupation in Vietnam. The sisters paved the way for future revolutionaries looking for a glimmer of hope when facing a foreign oppressor. They proved that even the most unlikely of candidates with little resources can lead a successful revolution with the right strategies and a charismatic demeanor. Future emperors would create temples to honor them, the best known temple is the Hai Bà Trưng Temple located in Hanoi.