Disney’s Mulan graced the big screen in 1998 – a young girl volunteers to join the Chinese army in place of her ailing father and ends up saving the nation from the invading Huns. As a classic underdog story, the film succeeds on its merits. Mulan is also the first Disney princess that’s not a “princess.”
The Trung sisters, Trac and Nhi, were from a powerful family among the Vietnamese. At this time (the 1st century A.D.) Vietnamese culture was matriarchal, meaning property was inherited through the line of the mother and it wasn’t uncommon for women to become business owners, warriors, politicians, etc. but Chinese culture was patriarchal, demanding that women be subservient to men. In addition, the Chinese instituted new taxes. All of this was a major source of contention. Trung Trac‘s husband, among others, openly protested the new policies. But overall, the Chinese domination of Vietnam was tolerated by the Vietnamese until a Chinese commander raped Trung Trac and murdered her husband. The Chinese were hoping to solidify the Vietnamese’s submission but instead this one-act began the rebellion.
Legend has it that the sisters killed a tiger and used its skin as paper to write a letter encouraging the people to join them. They trained 36 women to be generals, including their own mother. These women were so committed that one of their closest allies went into battle pregnant, gave birth on the battlefield, and strapped her newborn to her back so she could continue fighting.
The Trung sisters organized and led an army of 80,000 men and women against Chinese forces and reclaimed most of Vietnam. The people were so grateful that they raised Trung Trac to queen status. She reversed all the Chinese mandates, in favor of a government that respected their cultural roots and ruled for 3 years until the Chinese reclaimed power.
Legend also claims that both sisters threw themselves into the river, rather than face dishonor. Today, stories, poems, plays, postage stamps, posters and monuments still glorify the heroism of the Trung sisters. In Vietnam, February 6th is the national holiday in honor of them.
“All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission;
Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country.”
15th century Poem