How relevant are the Trung sisters in the 21st century?

Almost 2 years ago, I was on a study tour to the UK & came upon the news that a recent survey of several thousands of British teenage girls revealed that more than 90% of them cited Paris Hilton as their role model no.1. I was shocked that such a choice could occur in a country with famous queens, female MPs, ministers and prime minister, writers and artists, high level academics, public servants and businesswomen. But then, if the same question was asked here, what percentage of Australian Vietnamese girls would vote for Paris Hilton? It might well be an equally high percentage!

When a historian started doing research about the history of the AVWA which I founded in 1983, she asked me if the Trung Queen was my role model. Her question left me speechless for a few seconds. Then I answered: ‘Good God, no. Absolutely no”. When I was at school, the anniversary of the Trung Queen was celebrated on a grand scale with street parades, every year. No sane adolescent, whether male or female, would aim at becoming a hero or heroine. In Vietnamese language, we have a popular saying “Thời thế tạo anh hùng; Circumstances give rise to heroes”. In other words, you never plan to become a hero.

Because they were heroines, this in my mind precluded the Trung sisters from being role models. I have asked a number of female friends and staff if anyone had modelled herself on the Trung sisters and with one exception, the answer was No, No and No and the reasons given all relate to the fact that they were too exceptional, too high up. Isn’t it a shame? Could they be better role models than Paris Hilton?

To explore what aspects of their personalities and life stories would make them good role models, we must try to look at them as human beings and not as deities. First, they were very young, Nhi the younger sister who was still unmarried, most probably was only a teenager while Trac, the older sister, who was married but still childless, was apparently in her early twenties. They belonged to the local gentry and were well versed in the martial arts, as their mother herself was. As the father had died young, theirs was a single mum household.

At that time, there were no local archives and therefore, we must rely on Chinese archives of the time for historical facts. The Trung sisters lived in the 1st century AD when their people settled along the southern border of the Han Empire , had been colonized and brutally exploited by the Han for nearly one and half century. Trac’s husband, Thi Sach and a number of conspirators were trying to organise a rebellion. The Chinese authorities, on learning of the plot, executed Thi Sach. A few months later, the two sisters were able to mobilise the locals angered and frustrated for decades to join a general uprising against the Chinese dictatorial rule. Think of the parallel of young people starting the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, a little while ago. Their people’s army succeeded in driving out the superior Chinese occupation forces & Trac was proclaimed queen. She ruled for 3 years but was defeated when the Han Emperor sent a renowned general and a huge army to reconquer the land.

In the history of mankind, there were quite a few queens, empresses and recently, there are quite a few presidents and prime ministers, including our Julia Gillard but to my knowledge, there has been no instance, anywhere in the world, in any period, of a woman being successful in leading a rebellion and reigning as queen for 3 years.

What virtues, qualities or skills must the 2 sisters have to fearlessly take the initiative of leading a rebellion, getting the enthusiastic cooperation of tens of thousands of people for a high risk enterprise, fighting over several months and finally defeating the armed forces of an empire probably 100 times as big as their own country to rule for as long as 3 years?

It is up to the participants of the three concurrent workshops to discuss and report on which skills, qualities or virtues are still relevant or most relevant in our time. We might come round to the point of view that, after all, the Trung queen would make a better role model than Paris Hilton for 21st century women, young and old.

Anyway, I hope we will have an interesting day.

Thank you for your attention.

Cam Nguyen

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