Bà Trưng quê ở châu Phong

translated and annotated

Dr. Đàm Trung Pháp
Professor Emeritus
Texas Woman’s University


“Bà Trưng quê ở châu Phong”

Lê Ngô Cát et al.

Lady Trưng hailed from the Phong prefecture.
Enraged by a greedy tyrant and determined to avenge her husband,
she and her younger sister, who shared a solemn oath,
raised the lady-warrior flag asserting their command … 

The popular verses above refer to Vietnam’s revered heroines Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị. In the year 40, these two sisters recruited thousands of followers who helped them rout the greedy and cruel Chinese governor Su Ding (Tô Định), who had killed Trưng Trắc’s husband Thi Sách. Su Ding’s cowardly escape to China marked the end of Vietnam’s first Chinese occupation, which had lasted 150 years [1]. Trưng Trắc became the reigning queen of Vietnam until the year 43, when she and her younger sister were defeated by the Chinese marshal Ma Yuan (Mã Viện) and subsequently killed themselves by jumping into a river. Since their deaths almost two thousand years ago, they have been reverently commemorated as the nation’s paragons of heroism on their death anniversary (the sixth day of the second month of the lunar year). Shrines in their honor exist in many places, even in southern Guangdong (Quảng Đông) in China, but the two best-known ones are in Đồng Nhân village near Hà Nội and Hát Môn village in Sơn Tây province.

According to the book Lĩnh Nam Chích Quái (Wonders Plucked from the Dust of Lingnan) written in the fifteenth century, the Trưng sisters were born in Mê Linh village, Phong prefecture. Their father was a Lạc lord in Giao prefecture. Trưng Trắc was a strong and brave woman who was married to Thi Sách, a resident of Diên prefecture. When the egregious Chinese governor  Su Ding killed Thi Sách, Trưng Trắc and her sister Trưng Nhị started an uprising against the Chinese occupation.  Supported by the people of Cửu Chân, Nhật Nam, and Hợp Phố districts, the sisters pacified sixty-five strongholds throughout Lĩnh Nam [2]. As the country’s new sovereign, Queen Trưng Trắc set up her court in Mê Linh, abolished the insidious tribute taxes imposed by the Chinese, and restored a simpler form of government reflecting traditional Vietnamese values. Su Ding escaped to China and was dismissed by the Han court, which later dispatched Ma Yuan (Mã Viện) and Liu Long (Lưu Long), two seasoned generals, to Lĩnh Nam to reclaim it. The fighting lasted for more than a year in Lạng Sơn. Outnumbered by the much more adept enemy, the Trưng sisters and their troops had to retreat to Cấm Khê, where they were defeated. As their troops dispersed, our heroines killed themselves by drowning.

In the thirteenth century, the historian Lê Văn Hưu [3] did not mince his words when he wrote about the heroic deeds of the Trưng sisters, as recorded in Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư (Complete Book of History of Great Viet) compiled by the historian Ngô Sĩ Liên [4] in the fifteenth century:

“Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị were women. They gave one shout and the Cửu Chân, Nhật Nam, and Hợp Phố districts, along with sixty-five strongholds, responded to them. Their setting up the nation and proclaiming themselves as queens was as easy as turning over their hands. This shows that our land was able to establish a royal tradition. Alas, for a thousand years after this uprising, the men of our land bowed their heads, folded their arms in servitude to the Chinese. How shameful this is in comparison with the Trưng sisters!”

Reflecting on the astute thinking of the scholar Phạm Huy Thông [5] in his 1975 article on a new synthesis of Vietnamese history inspired by recent archeological discoveries, published in Học tập 21(237), two highlights in which were that the destruction of the ancient Viet civilization by the Chinese victors after the Trưng sisters’ short-lived era was a “death that did not become death,” and that “though oppressed by a foreign country for a thousand years, the will that we are we among our people was not something that could be shaken loose,” Taylor (1983, p. 339) cogently summarized how contemporary Vietnamese evaluate the Trưng sisters:

“It implies that if the Trung sisters had not resisted, there would be no Vietnamese nation today, that the uprising of A.D. 40 effectively ‘froze’ the Dong-son heritage [6] in a moment of historic courage, insuring that it would not degenerate and invite the scorn of later generations. The Trung sisters were the last of the pre-Chinese popular leaders; their deeds echoed across the centuries of Chinese rule, calling the Vietnamese back to an ancient inheritance.”

Two poems written in honor of the Trưng sisters are translated and annotated below. The first one, translated by the scholar Huỳnh Sanh Thông (1996, p. 30), is from the Hồng Đức Anthology compiled in the fifteenth century by the highly literary court of King Lê Thánh Tông. The second one is from the Đại Nam’s National History Explained in Verse, a work by a group of poets that was revised by Lê Ngô Cát (1827-1879) and Phạm Đình Toái during the Nguyễn dynasty.

Vịnh Hai Bà Trưng

Giúp dân dẹp loạn trả thù mình,

Chị rủ cùng em kết nghĩa binh.

Tô Định bay hồn vang một trận,

Lĩnh Nam mở cõi vững trăm thành.

Mới dày bảo vị gia ơn trọng,

Đã đội hoa quan xuống phúc lành.

Còn nước còn non còn miếu mạo,

Nữ trung đệ nhất đấng tài danh.

[Hồng Đức Quốc Âm Thi Tập]

Homage to the Trưng Queens 

To slay the people’s foe and wreak revenge,

two sisters took up arms for their just cause.

One battle put Su Ding’s scared wits to rout;

a hundred tribes rose up to guard Lingnan.

They climbed the throne – large bounties they bestowed.

They donned their crowns – sweet blessings they conferred.

While streams and hills endure, their shrine shall stand,

a monument to peerless womanhood.

[Hồng Đức Anthology]

Hai Bà Trưng dựng nền độc lập

Bà Trưng quê ở châu Phong

Giận người tham bạo thù chồng chẳng quên.

Chị em nặng một lời nguyền,

Phất cờ nương tử thay quyền tướng quân,

Ngàn Tây nổi áng phong trần,

Ầm ầm binh mã xuống gần Long Biên.

Hồng quần nhẹ bức chinh yên,

Đuổi ngay Tô Định dẹp tan biên thành.

Đô kỳ đóng cõi Mê Linh,

Lĩnh Nam riêng một triều đình nước ta.

Ba thu gánh vác sơn hà,

Một là báo phục, hai là bá vương.

Uy danh động đến Bắc phương,

Hán sai Mã Viện lên đường tiến công.

Hồ Tây đua sức vẫy vùng,

Nữ nhi chống với anh hùng được nao?

Cấm Khê đến lúc hiểm nghèo,

Chị em thất thế cũng liều với sông.

Phục Ba mới dựng cột đồng,

Ải quan truyền dấu biên công cõi ngoài.

Trưng Vương vắng mặt còn ai?

Đi về thay đổi mặc người Hán quan.

[Đại Nam Quốc Sử Diễn Ca]

The Trưng Sisters established independence

Lady Trưng hailed from the Phong prefecture.

Enraged by a greedy tyrant and determined to avenge her husband,

she and her younger sister, who shared a solemn oath,

raised the lady-general flag asserting their command [7].

From the west surged wind and dust,

troops and horses thundered toward Long Biên.

On horseback, the ladies agilely deployed their soldiers,

quickly routing Su Dinh and flattening his fortress.

Mê Linh was to become their capital,

and Lĩnh Nam was where they held their own court.

For three years they served the country,

having both taken vengeance and ascended the throne.

Their heroic reputation reached the north

causing the Han court to dispatch Ma Yuan to topple them.

In Hồ Tây the two sides battled,

but how could women match seasoned male warriors?

Held at bay in Cấm Khê,

the defeated sisters drowned themselves in a river.

The Wave-Calming general [8] erected a bronze pillar [9]

to mark the southernmost border of his country.

With Queen Trưng gone, who could be counted on?

A Han mandarin would be free to rule the land.

 [Đại Nam’s National History Explained in Verse]



[1] Vietnam was under Chinese rule four times, totaling 1,007 years. The first time lasting 150 years (111 BC – 39 AD) was ended by Queen Trưng Trắc. The second time lasting 501 years (43 – 544) was ended by Lý Nam Đế. The third time lasting 336 years (603 – 939) was ended by Ngô Quyền, and the fourth time lasting 20 years (1407 – 1427) was ended by Lê Lợi.

[2] Lĩnh Nam (Lingnan) literally means “south of the mountain range” and is an ancient Chinese name for the area that covered China’s Guangdong (Quảng Đông), Guangxi (Quảng Tây) and northern Vietnam.

[3] Lê Văn Hưu was Vietnam’s first historian. At the request of King Trần Thái Tôn, he became the chief compiler of the 30-volume History of Great Viet (Đại Việt Sử Ký) which was completed in 1272. 

[4] Ngô Sĩ Liên was asked by King Lê Thánh Tôn to compile the 15-volume Complete Book of History of Great Viet (Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư) which was completed in 1479.

[5] The French-educated archeologist Phạm Huy Thông (1916-1988) was also a noted poet and educator. He directed the Institute of Archeology in Hanoi from 1967 to 1988.

[6] The Đông Sơn culture flourished during the Bronze Age in Vietnam, when the first Vietnamese kingdoms named Văn Lang and Âu Lạc existed. Also known as Lạc Việt, the Đông Sơn people were good at growing rice, raising buffaloes and pigs, fishing, and sailing. They were also skilled bronze casters whose amazing works included the famous Đông Sơn and Ngọc Lũ drums.

[7] The image of two brave young women on top of elephants leading the troops and raising swords and flags of command is such a sublime icon of heroism!

[8] Wave-Calming is the translation of the honorific title Fu Bo (Phục Ba) that was bestowed upon marshal Ma Yuan when he was dispatched to battle the Trưng sisters.

[9] Before Ma Yuan returned to China, he had a bronze pillar erected to mark the southernmost border of China. On the pillar was engraved this haughty warning: “If this pillar breaks, Giao Chỉ  will perish.” Giao Chỉ was the name of Vietnam at that time.


Hoàng Thúc Trâm (1941). Dâng hương Miếu Hát. Hanoi: Tri Tân.                                            

Hoàng Xuân Hãn (1956). Đại Nam quốc sử diễn ca. Saigon: Trường Thi.                                     

Huỳnh Sanh Thông (1996). An anthology of Vietnamese poems. New Haven and London:     Yale University Press.

Taylor, Keith Weller (1983). The birth of Vietnam. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.                                                                                                                            

Trần Thế Pháp (Lê Hữu Mục dịch, 1982). Lĩnh Nam chích quái. Hoa Kỳ: NXB Trăm Việt.              

Trần Trọng Kim (1971). Việt Nam sử lược. Saigon: Trung Tâm Học Liệu, Bộ Giáo Dục.