The Trưng Sisters (Part 4)

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(…continued from The Trưng Sisters (Part 3))

The Beauty

During the three-year reign of Trắc and Nhị Trưng, people saw them everywhere.  They never stayed in one place for long—always on their elephants and always on the road.  Their swords were never sheathed, they were constantly keeping the troops trained and motivated, maintaining connections with all the generals, and maintaining the goodwill of the population.

To allow the people time to recover from the steep harsh taxes that they had been under, the queens did not issue any taxes for the first two years of their reign, which allowed for food stores to be replenished and allowed for the people to adequately feed their families.  This, above all was what kept the queens in the hearts and minds of the people, even to this day.

Everywhere they went, the people rallied and poured their support.  The young queens could be seen on their elephants riding all over the country, wearing their red robes with gold turbans even though traditions state that a woman who is in the midst of mourning for her deceased husband must wear white from head to foot and refrain from beautifying herself.

White is the color of mourning, but Trắc was too busy to be in mourning.  She had a country to protect.  As beautiful as she was—and she was a legendary beauty, for the three ensuing years that she was a monarch, she took extra special care with her hair and makeup, and always wore red and gold when she went outside.

When her female generals asked why, she responded immediately:  “I cannot allow my personal feelings to affect our soldiers’ morale.  If I keep with traditions and wear white or smear charcoal dust on my face, I cannot maintain the spirit of my troops.  I must continue my daily dressing routine.  My colors and my outer appearance bolster their spirits.  It also affects the enemy and weakens their resolve.  Everyone else can follow traditions.  I, on the other hand, do not have that luxury.”

(As an aside: Three-fourths of all her generals were women…and in my next posting, I will go into more detail about the more notable women generals and the real reason WHY there were so many female war generals, land Lords, and Monarchs during that time)

The Territory

The territory was huge, and a great prize to be maintained—or taken.  When Tô Định and his men fell, the Trưng sisters took control over the nine regions that the Chinese had split sections to facilitate their governance.  Along with their own region, Mê Linh, in present-day Hunan province, this made complete, the ten regions of the Trưng Dynasty.

To understand the scope of what these two courageous women did, take a look at the map below, which shows the regions they had managed to recover from the Chinese during the revolution to reclaim Việt land.

As I stated previously in my last posting about the Trưng sisters, the reason why they were able to do so was not because of the death of a single king in a single kingdom.  It was because the scattered Việt kingdoms were a loosely united states of Việt Nam who had in common a spoken and written language, and a common ancestor.  They had lived in separate states in relative peace for thousands of years until the Chinese came down and took over.

It was within this chaotic time that the Việt Lạc organized the revolt, headed by the Trưng sisters.  Of course, this was a few regions short of what it used to be under the ancient Hùng kings, but it was as close as it ever got again, to the original Xích Quỉ region of Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ of ancient times.


Orange text denotes the ancient names as they were known.  Green text denotes the name as they are known to the Vietnamese today.  Black bold text denotes how they are phonetically anglicized.

These ten regions are:

1. Nam Hải (Quảng Đông) – present-day Guangdong

2. Thương Ngô (Quảng Tây) – present-day Guangxi

3. Uất Lâm (Quảng Tây) –  present-day Guangxi

4. Hợp Phố (Quảng Châu) –  present-day Guangzhou

5. Giao Chỉ (Bắc Việt Nam) –  present-day Jiaozhi

6. Cửu Chân (Vân Nam xuống Thanh Hoá) – present-day Yunnan, down to Thanh Hoa, Việt Nam

7. Nhật Nam (Nghệ An) – present-day North Việt Nam

8. Châu Nhai (Hải Nam Island) – present-day Hainan

9. Đạm Nhĩ (Đam Châu of Hải Nam Island) – present-day Hainan

10.  Mê Linh (Hồ Nam) – present-day Hunan

The Trump Card

But it is one thing to regain an empire—and another to retain it.  The Chinese to the north had a final trump card they pulled out of retirement, just for this specific duty.  It was to be one of his major crowning achievements.

So that it was, on an early spring morning, some time within the first month of the brand new year of the tiger, 42 AD, the Chinese came calling on the Trưng sisters at their capitol citadel of Mê Linh, located in current-day Changsha, Hunan, China.  The name on the calling card was one famous Chinese figure, General Mã Viện (馬援) Ma Yuan.

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General Mã Viện was a highly skilled warrior.  He had won many battles for the Chinese emperor and was, in fact, 62 years old and enjoying his well-earned retirement.  Mã Viện had to be called out of retirement because, frankly, he was the very best they had, and the Chinese Emperor knew that nothing but the best would regain his lost southern territories.

The history books state that the Trưng sisters had a force of 10,000 fighters.  General Mã Viện had roughly about 30,000 foot soldiers and 5,000 naval troops with 20 ocean-worthy vessels, each carrying around two or three-hundred naval troops.  Her troops knew the territory well and since they were on familiar terrain, they could defend themselves well, but he had the coastal areas.  By this time Phúc Kiến (福建) Fujian had already fallen into the hands of the Chinese, and the sea route belonged to Mã Viện.

It took one full year, from the time Mã Viện was given the order in 42 AD, to move his troops into position to the first battle in 43 AD, but it was a year well-spent.  General Mã Viện was highly skilled, with decades of war strategies behind him and a massive number of troops allotted to his cause.  Add to that the ocean vessels of naval troops and he was a megalithic force to be dealt with.

The Trưng sisters had NO sea vessels.  All they had were land troops, and this would prove to be their falling grace.  His strategy was to attack from the front AND the rear, using his navy fleet to prevent the queens’ troops from retreating.  It was a spectacularly successful strategy.

Still, the queens were not ones to be cowered.  They rallied their troops, and along with their fierce female generals, they charged into battle with fearless ferocity.  Their famous war cry, echoing in every town, every hamlet, every city, accompanied by the echoing sound of the famous Đông Sơn bronze drums, was thus:

Một xin rửa sạch nước thù,                        First, to wash away the enemy
Hai xin dựng lại nghiệp xưa họ Hùng,        Second, to rebuild the might of ancient Hùng Dynasty
Ba kêu oan ức lòng chồng,                       Third, crying for revenge of husband’s soul
Bốn xin vẻn vẹn sở công lệnh này.             Fourth, to complete the mission of this order 

The first battle was in Lãng Bạc, which is present-day Hồ Tây, or East Lake.  It was at this great battle that the young queens lost 5,000 troops to hand-to-hand combat, plus 10,000 more were taken as prisoners-of-war.  They also lost six or seven female generals of high note.

The first battle lost, the queens pulled back to Thạch Thất in the area of Cấm Khê (Kim Khê, in Guanxi).  Here, another huge battle ensued, whereby the queens lost again.  And again, they had to make a retreat, but along the way, a horrible tragedy occurred.

The queens were surrounded on all sides.  With nowhere to run, they fought until they were down to a handful of warriors.  They were staring at death in the face, cornered on all sides by blood thirsty warriors who were moving in for the kill.

In a last ditch effort, Nhị Trưng told her older sister, Trắc Trưng to make a run for the capitol, and that she would hold the line to allow for Trắc’s escape.  She knew that they both could not run together.  One of them would have to maintain the line for the other to make it back to the fortified citadel that was their capitol.

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As she stood there, bravely fighting the horde of Chinese warriors, Nhị knew that as long as her sister Trưng could make it out of that battle ground alive, they would have a chance.  The people could rally around a single monarch just as well as two.  She hoped and prayed for her sister’s safety, partly because of her great love for her twin, and partly because of her desperate yearning to retain the land that was her native home.

It was a bitter, desperate fight.  For her, there was to be no other ending.  Nhị was a very highly skilled martial artist and weapons master, but her small group of solders were getting smaller, and there was just so many Chinese warriors.  So very many.

But she kept fighting.

She kept fighting and fighting and fighting until she alone, stood on the battle ground, surrounded by Chinese warriors.  She was a pool of red silk swinging a silver blade in all directions.

The end came swiftly.

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Overwhelmed, she fell at last, to the hands of the Chinese warriors.  They beheaded her and took their prize to be presented to the Chinese Emperor as a sign of victory.

Meanwhile, Trắc was having her own problems.  No sooner had she fled past the group of warriors from that battle, whereupon she ran straight into the naval force that was waiting at the rear.

battleThere was nowhere to go.

They were surrounded.

The fighting became intense.  The small group of warriors she had remaining desperately tried to defend their queen.  They fought valiantly, but in the end, one by one, they each fell to the enemy’s blades.

Trắc knew there was no way out.  She also knew that she did not want to be beheaded and sent back to the Emperor.

In a last ditch attempt to cheat the Chinese warriors of their last prize, she threw herself down the cliff into the Hát River.

Thus ended the legend of the Trưng sisters over two-thousand years ago.  They went out in a blaze of glory, fighting with everything they had until the very end.

But death is not the end.  Nor is it the worst thing that can possibly happen.

The Trưng sisters are still remembered to this day.  Every year on the anniversary of their death, the people still come to their shrines and pray and remember and give thanks for their ultimate sacrifice.  To this day, they hold Trưng sisters parades and plays and commemorative reenactments.  To this day, the children still learn about them and sing songs about their heroic deeds.  To this day, every single city in Việt Nam has boulevards and buildings and parks and schools and libraries named after them.

That is not death—that is immortality.


The Temple of an Immortal

girl temple

(…continued from The Trauma of Being Different)

Back in 2007, I went back to Việt Nam to visit the northern areas and to see the sights.  During my three-week sojourn, I wandered through more temples and ancient structures and caves than I can remember off the top of my head, but I do remember wandering through the main gates of this temple.

Sadly, my photos are on another computer so I can’t show you my grinning monkey face standing like a funny American tourist in front of the temple.  However, thanks to the miracles of the internet, I found a picture of the temple that is exactly what I saw.  This is Đình Thổ Hà, a very famous temple located in the town of Thổ Hà.  


This is what you call a living, breathing, actively in-use museum.  The museum is the building itself and not just the artifacts contained within.  See that huge white urn in the center of the photo?  I actually stuck several incense sticks into that urn as a sign of respect before I entered the place.  I also had to leave my shoes outside the door where a small chú tiểu (young monk) of maybe five or six years old was standing to guard the shoes from being taken.  Since they were cheap flip-flops, I didn’t care, but it was nice to know that the young temple monks took good care of the visitors.

I remember walking into the temple, not really knowing what kind of temple it was.  Seriously, I had seen so many temples that had been erected in honor of one Budha or another, so I thought it was probably, yet another Budha temple.

But no…

This one was specifically built for the veneration of Lão Tử, Thái Thượng Lão Quân.  In other words, it’s for the guy we all know and love, Lao Tzu.

But that is not what’s special about this museum temple, oh no.

What makes this temple so very special is that it was the first place where Lao Tzu’s water buffalo went to after he left the northern regions near the city of Tây An (西安) Xi’an, in modern-day Thiểm Tây (陕西) Shaanxi Province.  Notice I said place and not building.  The original building has been rebuilt time and time again due to a variety of reasons.

B52 Bomb Damage, VietnamThe latest incarnation of this building occurred in 1685 under the direction of one of the Lê Kings.  That is barely 325 years…quite new and modern compared to the vast distance of approximately 2,260 years between the time Lao Tzu was found wandering around that area on his water buffalo and today.

This place has been refurbished over and over again due to the ravages of time, flooding, earth quakes, heavy storms, and all the various wars which had been fought in and around this area.  The bombings around here and the countryside are such that scars still show everywhere we look, even to this day.

I passed by so many perfectly round bomb craters by the side of the road during my visits there.  Most of those bomb craters are now local swimming pools where kids gather to swim and where animals go to drink and bathe.  Out of the horrors is reborn a new way of looking at things, a new way to take what is good out of what cannot possibly be good.  Vietnamese are resilient and that is why we are still here, after all these years through all these changes.

So here we are, thousands of years ago, all the way back into the era during the reign of King An Dương Vương.   This guy ruled in the years between 257 BC to 207 BC, where he managed to unite the two tribes Âu Việt andLạc Việt into one region called Âu Lạc, and although there is much about him that is historically significant, I’m going to skip over all that and just focus in on one small part of his activities that has to do with what we are discussing in this post.

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The story can actually be found in what has now somehow, inadvertently turned into one of my favorite books, the Lĩnh Nam Trích Quái ( 嶺南摘怪 ) Wonders Plucked from the Dust of Linh-nam., which talks about the Truyện Rùa Vàng, or The Story of the Golden Turtle:

In the telling, it states that King An Dương Vương had tried to build a citadel in the area of Cổ Loa many times, but no matter how many times he built it, it kept coming apart due to inclement weather, or fire, or flooding, or warfare between the neighboring areas.

So, he decides he is going to personally go to the temple himself and ask for divine help because obviously, this thing is a nightmare that regular humans can’t handle.

The temple that the King goes to is at the very same site of the Đình Thổ Hà that I was at, only back in circa 260 BC, it was a little bit differently constructed—much more modest, much more unassuming.  It was little more than a small pagoda that barely fit a handful of people.

On the seventh day of the third month (that would be March 7, except in the Lunar calendar) of that year, he was in the temple asking for help when an old man with white hair was seen coming from the west and heading towards the temple gate.  The old man said in a firm and commanding voice, “If you build it like that, there’s no telling when it will ever get done!”

Of course, you know—nobody talks to the King in that tone of voice, let alone a nobody old man from nowheresville who should not even know why the King was there in the first place.  Immediately, the king’s men surrounded the old man and demanded that he leave the area where the king was present or face cruel and unusual punishment.

King An Dương Vương, hearing the hoolabaloo decides he wants to meet this bold and boisterous old man, so the old man was led into the temple to be placed in front of the King to be questioned.  The King, upon hearing what the old man proclaimed at the front gate, asked the old man, “I have built, and rebuilt, and rebuilt this citadel many, many times but it continually falls down, costing me so much in energy and resources.  Why is this happening?”

The old man replied, “There will be an ambassador of Thanh Giang who will come to assist your kingdom to rebuild the new citadel.  Only then will you be successful.  Wait for him.”  After he said these words to the king, he said his goodbyes and left.

Sure enough, in a very short time, there was a golden turtle that rose up out of the river.  It called itself the Ambassador of Thanh Giang and the first thing it did was to eliminate all the bad spirits and strange beings that had previously kept the citadel from being built.  Then, it actively assisted the king using knowledge and various magics so that the citadel only took two weeks to build from the ground up.

It is still standing to this day.

(…to be continued)

Lĩnh Nam Trích Quái ( 嶺南摘怪 ) Wonders Plucked from the Dust of Linh-nam.  14th century.  Trần Thế Pháp

The Trauma of Being Different

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(…continued from Damn Stubborn Water Buffalo)

This is my firm conviction.  We Vietnamese should not claim folks as our people if they refuse the claim, meaning if they insist that they are not Vietnamese, we should not place that honorific on them…even if it’s true.

I remember when I was younger, much younger, I dyed my hair blonde and pretended that I didn’t know Vietnamese at all because I didn’t want people to associate me with Vietnam.  It worked quite well because although I am Vietnamese, for some strange genetic reason, my skin is very fair and I don’t look like the typical Vietnamese girl.  Now, you may ask yourself, why would I think like this?  My answer to you would be, ‘Have you ever been in a typical American High school?’

The kids are vicious!

Growing up in America, I saw first-hand how kids picked on others who were different in the slightest way.  The rule of the day was…DON’T FUCKING STICK OUT!!!  If I just looked like everybody else, acted like everybody else, thought like everybody else, I would escape ridicule, prejudice, and persecution.

In any case, living in America, I could meld myself into society quite easily.  I could be whomever and whatever I wanted to be.  Nobody knew, and frankly nobody cared.  The only thing that tied me to my heritage was my name, but that was easily remedied.  I acquired a nickname and that was what I went by.  Since I no longer stuck out, I was able to go about my daily life with little traumatic disruptions.  As an aside, acquiring a nice strong boyfriend who knew martial arts helped too, but that’s another story for another day.

Applying it to this situation, I can see how this would play out more than two thousand years ago, in the time of Lao Tzu and Confucius (roughly between 722 BC and 481 BC, aka the Spring-Autumn Period).

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Imagine this.

The warm and fertile Great South has been settled by the one-hundred-tribal-Viet people for thousands of years, and all of a sudden, they are overrun by the fierce nomadic tribes from the north.  With no recourse, they have to try and fit in, all the while, maintaining as much normalcy as they can so they can get on with the daily chores of getting the plantings done on time and getting the community fed.  That’s not a small task, especially when there are overlords demanding taxes and harvesting in return for keeping one’s head securely on one’s shoulders.

Then imagine being born into a royal family of the Great South, and having to try to blend in to keep from being ambushed.  Obviously, that had to be a major balancing act.  Those who were able to completely eradicate their ties to Âu Việt and assimilate as quickly as possible to the Han Chinese from the north were the ones who were able to most effectively live to a ripe old age.  Those who insisted on maintaining their Việt heritage were more likely to have ‘things’ happen to them.

Imagine being a famous writer of a book that has survived thousands of years, and yet the name of the  author of that famous book is nowhere to be found.

Obviously, we are not talking about Confucius.  We know exactly when he was born (551 AD), when he died (479 AD).  We know where he was born (somewhere in the state of Sòng (宋國) north of the Yangtze) and what his birth name is (Kong Qiu).  We know he is a descendant of either the Shang kings or priests (more likely both sides) through the Dukes of Sòng.  In other words, he was a properly-documented Chinese of royal birth from the northern states.

But what happens to a royal person who was documented as having been born from the area south of the Yangtze river?  What if he had been born to a southern tribal king and lived in an area called Âu Việt?  What if he insisted on being considered a part of the Âu Việt population?

lao tzu painting

As has been exhaustively documented by historians, in subsequent assimilation attempts by the Han Chinese, most if not just about every vestige of known Vietnamese history was completely wiped out, leaving very little left for us to examine.

The ramification of that act is also the biggest reason why there would be so few records of such an important figure as Lao Tzu.  The only parts left untouched which would vouch to his existence on this Earth were the several documented conversations that he had with the more illustrious Confucius, who was younger than he was and had come asking for wisdom and knowledge.  After all, Confucius’ documented sayings and activities had to be preserved at all costs.  He was a direct link to the powerful, elite, technologically advanced civilization north of the Yangtze.

All I can say is, thank heavens for those documented meetings with Confucius or we would have never known anything about this man.

Chinese documents reveal that Lao Tzu’s final days on earth were obscured by the fact that he took a water buffalo and headed due west, to the dessert beyond.  Nobody knew where he went and what happened afterwards.

I have talked about this extensively in my previous post Damn Stubborn Water Buffalo, and I have detailed the reasons why he could not have gone into the desert.  Since he could not possibly go eastward (the Pacific Ocean is a wonderful deterrent to any excursions eastward that would completely obliterate a person’s existence from the annals of history), and since there were no water buffalo in the northern regions (which is why the Han Chinese had to exchange the water buffalo for the cow in the twelve animals of the zodiac…but more on that later, I promise…) the animal would not be wandering northward.

The only logical conclusion that we can come to is that the water buffalo went HOME, south of the area where he was sent to pick up the venerable old Lao Tzu.  Contrary to what little has been left in modern Chinese history, Lao Tzu’s story doesn’t end with the swishing of the buffalo’s tail and his slowly disappearing form into the distant hills.

If we follow the direction of his buffalo’s route, we find that his story continues onward.

(…continue to The Temple of an Immortal)

Enigma of Lao Tzu

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I feel like a child who has inadvertently wandered into an old dilapidated castle where nothing but shadows of ghosts still haunt.  The glorious grandeur of the place is still evident—the large halls and high ceilings adorned still, with the remains of what must have been magnificent furnishings and fixtures, their colors faded and aged to various shades of greys and browns.  The walls are sagging and the floorboards are rotted through.  Dust and decay is thick, and the dank smell of long dead history stagnates about the place.

I find myself wandering into what must have been a magnificent library with shelves that go up to the ceiling and piled high with musty tomes of old forgotten lore.  I walk to the nearest book to read the name on the spine.  Unfortunately, it is written in an ancient language I cannot understand.  I run my fingers across the spines of the books directly in front of me, taking away centuries of grime and filth, revealing for the first time in ages, the true colors of the binding—bright reds, blues, yellows, greens.  All perfectly preserved and all written in the same cryptic language that I cannot decipher.  My soul cried out with anguish.  Such unapproachable treasures…

Such is what I face at this point in time.  I am within the proximity of a treasure trove, but because I cannot read the inscriptions, the treasure is useless to me.

So I pull out my handy dandy Star Trek universal translator and I am back in business!!!

anime girl 163YES!

We Taobabes have power.  We Taobabes have the www force on our side.  We Taobabes rock!

We Taobabes also know that there is more than one way to skin a cat.  History can be found, not just in the written accounts but also in many other places.  But I can’t take credit for that thought.  I actually did a divination and asked about this, and to my surprise, I got Hexagram 21 – Biting Through.

Now, normally, I would go through an entire posting and delve into the meanings and the wordings behind the divination, but not this time.  This time, I am simply going to take the short cut and give you the divination in one sentence, and then I am going into the meat of this posting.  If I go into the details, it would take at least three postings to finish this train of thought, and I am trying to cut corners here.  This posting is about the enigma of Lao Tzu, so I am going to keep it as focused as I can.

In the interest of keeping things short, I have one thing going for me.

There is hardly anything to be found about the man at all.

This, in itself is very strange.  If there is one thing I know about the Chinese historians, it’s that they are real sticklers for historical details.  Their history goes back to the Shang Dynasty at least (circa 1700–1046 Bc), and is very well documented.  So well-documented in fact that even lesser figures are described and annotated quite clearly.

So—why is it then that one of the greatest, most influential men in Chinese history, one that actually held a position within a king’s court, would be relegated to such obscurity that he would be lacking in such basic details as birth date, real name, and even death date?  Why would the recounting of such a person be so shadowy as to cause a famous Japanese historian by the name of Sokichi Tsuda to throw up his hands and proclaim that the man is a mythological construct and cannot be a real human being?

Hmmmm…inquiring minds wanna know…

(Continue to Damn Stubborn Water Buffalo!)

The Trưng Sisters (Part 3)


(…continued fromThe Trưng Sisters Part 2)

And so it was, hidden in the mists of the jungles, within the dark dank caves of the mountainous region of Mê Linh that Trưng Trắc and her sister, Trưng Nhị, along with an entire regiment of rebels began their year-long preparation to go up against General Tô Định.

To understand the scope of what the sisters were dealing with, the geography has to be clearly drawn and delineated.  Mê Linh, where the sisters were born is actually present day Trường Sa city of Hồ Nam region (Changsha, Hunan, China).  To this day, the Chinese have no idea what the name Changsha means or what the origin of that name comes from, but all they have to do is ask the Vietnamese.  We know what that name means because it is Vietnamese in origin.

Changsha Hunan

It is also here, in Mê Linh that the earliest versions of the Tao Te Ching were found—but that’s another story for another day.  Today, I want to focus on the Trưng sisters.

Although it might have been romantic to draw a picture of an entire rebel army going up against a cruel General and his high-handed militia due to the death of their king, that was not the driving factor behind the uprising.  in this case, it was not about the death of Dương Thi.  Oh no.  A single human life, royal though he may be, would not have been enough to propel an entire region of rebels to join the Trưng sisters’ cause.

It was actually General Tô Định’s blood that the rebels wanted.  Everywhere he went, the Han oppression fell on the people in wave after wave of frontal attack.  Given free reign to do as he pleased by the Emperor of China, Tô Định went mad, fueled by his lust for power and glory.  His methods to subjugate the Viet people and assimilate them into the folds of the Han empire were barbaric and unbearable to the point that people were seeking out the twin sisters to join the revolution.

beautiful princess 39Surprisingly enough, the ranks began to swell with women from all ranks and classes, eager and determined to join the cause of the rebels.

Many of them were widows whose husbands had fallen under the sword of Tô Định and his men.  Many more were victims of raped and torture by the militia.

Young and old alike, they found the sisters and asked to join the rebellion.  The sisters, who were very well-versed with martial arts and weaponry, took them in and trained them all in various methods of weapons combat as well as hand-to-hand combat and basic martial arts.

It took a year, but they were finally ready.

In the early spring of 40AD, the Trưng sisters led the ragtag rebel group out of hiding, towards the border of their mother’s land, Mê Linh,

As soon as the rebel group came into view of Tô Định’s men, the Trưng sisters let out a wild cry and began waving their gold flags to start the fight.

Hai Ba Trung

Everywhere Tô Định’s men could see, there were women with weapons, charging at them left and right, like crazed animals.  It was highly organized and it was lethal.  Tô Định’s men did not know what hit them.  Not only were the foot soldiers women, but so were the generals and the commanding officers.  The female fighting battalion was a force to be reckoned with.  Some of the women were even pregnant, but that did not stop them from cutting down Tô Định’s men like butter.

Nothing stopped them.

It wasn’t long before Tô Định’s forces were whittled down to almost nothing.  Town after town, village after village, kingdom after kingdom, the Trưng sisters moved their forces forward, regaining 65 citadels that had been under the dominion of Tô Định for so many years.

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As the sisters moved forward, they gained more and more followers and sympathetic supporters.  It seemed they could not lose.  Within a month, Tô Định had been defeated, his corpse, among many others, lie rotting on the battlefield.

Never in the history of ancient Asia had there been such brave and powerful women, willing and able to defeat an entire Han Chinese force from the north.  The people loved them and everywhere they went, gold flags were flown and their names were sung.  The people called them Vua Bà, or women monarchs and for three years, the sisters reigned over the entire region of Hồ Nam (Hunan) all the way down to the edge of present-day north Vietnam.

Of course, within these three years, the Han from the north were not sitting idly by.  They had one last card to play—and play them they did.

(…to be continued)


Thuỷ Kinh Chú.  Lệ Đạo Nguyên

 Lục Độ Tập Kinh.  Lê Mạnh Thát

Hậu hán Thư.  Lưu Long


Nôm Na Là Cha Mách Qué

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Hey you!  Nôm na là cha mách qué!

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Say what???

Whatever dude.  Your Momma too.   Dumb ass.

I would have this attitude because this sooo sounds like such an insult.  This sentence cannot be said without it sounding like an insult.  Nobody knows why.  At least, nobody in the modern world knows why.

Well, I do—now.

Back in the old days, (and I mean really old—like a thousand years ago—old), this was an insult to those who used Chữ Nôm to write anything with.  (I detailed Chữ Nôm in my previous post so go back and read that if you are not clear on this aspect of the post).  The sentence, when uttered and hurled at someone meant that the person being insulted was an ignorant uneducated commoner, unable to comprehend that which exists at higher levels, written with elevated, respectable Han Chinese.


The commoners could care less.  They rather enjoyed it and actually proliferated the idea and endorsed that saying until it saturated all corners of Vietnam.  The saying continued forth through the years, unchanged in meaning, deriding and jeering the commoner and his usage of street language (as opposed to court language).  It still survives to this day and used in the same derisive manner.

I tell you…

Most folks have no clue as to its original meaning.  If they only knew the truth, they would…


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…they would smile and continue to proliferated the idea so that it would remain intact for future generations, that’s what they would do.  You see, it is a huge clue that has been left to be transmitted down to future generations during a time when the written knowledge of this was banned on fear of death and persecution.

kingThis was evident in the retelling that was detailed in a history book called Tiêu Sơn Tráng Sĩ, written by Khái Hưng, about the reign of King Quang Trung, aka King Nguyễn Huệ (阮惠) which lasted from 1788 to 1792 (more about this important king in future postings).

In a short passage, there was described, a scene where a visiting dignitary who was dispatched by the Emperor of China from the north to check on the compliance of Han Chinese decrees by the kingdoms in the south, cried out in horror:  “Ignorant!  All of you are ignorant!  From King to Courtiers, you are all ignorant!”

He was, of course, talking about the fact that King Quang Trung was using Chữ Nôm to write his kingly decrees, instead of using the more elite and advanced Hanzi as required by the Emperor from China.

Indeed, the truth of the matter was, King Quang Trung had previously insisted to his subjects that all decrees written in his kingdom, courtly or not, HAD TO BE WRITTEN in Chữ Nôm, and it had nothing to do with whether he knew Hanzi or not.  As I have previously stated, those who were part of the court HAD TO LEARN HANZI because that was the language of the courts.

In fact, because he lived most of his life within the royal palace, King Quang Trung probably knew Hanzi better than he knew Chữ Nôm, and most likely, he knew it far better than the visiting dignitary, who could not have been educated in the manner that princes and kings were.  The only reason for King Quang Trung’s decree was because he wanted the Vietnamese to use the language of the south that had been cobbled together by the southerners (the Vietnamese) for the southerners to use.

This language, though not the original Văn Khoa Đầu, was at least NOT the language of the overlords from the north.  Furthermore, it was not illegal to use and would not cause the wrath of the northern Han Chinese to rain down upon the common subjects.  Most importantly, it allowed King Quang Trung to NOT have to honor the language of his enemy by using it.

I don’t know about you, but if it was good enough for my king, it’s good enough for me!

So, to answer the question about what the heck Nôm na là cha mách qué means, I’m sure you must have figured out by now that the first word has to have something to do with Chữ Nôm, and you would be absolutely correct!

Here is the breakdown:

1)  Nôm is Nam in modern-day Vietnamese, as in Việt Nam or Nam Script as used in this context.

2)  Na is na ná, which means ‘similar to’ or ‘akin’, as used in the context of this sentence.

3)   is the verb ‘to be’.  In the present tense, it means ‘is’

3)  Cha is father or teacher; in this context, it means teacher.

4)  Mách is to teach or to instruct.

5)  Qué is quẻ in modern-day Vietnamese and means gua, as in bagua, or the combined eight trigrams.

Put it all together and what do we get?

Nam Script is akin to the teacher of the hexagrams.

And once again, in cleverly hidden messages, in mythology, in stories told to children, in nursery rhymes, even in derisive quotations, my ancient ancestors have tried with everything they had to transfer tiny nuggets of truth down the ages to us so that one day, we can gather them all up and smelt them down to isolate the pure gold from the impurities.  The resulting truths shine like the brightest golden treasures—treasures that my ancestors have fought to preserve so that one day I could recover them and claim my birthright.

Their message is clear.  Learn Chữ Nôm and I would be able to learn the I Ching at the most basic levels.  I would be able to read the I Ching in its most basic form, as it was written so long ago, and as it was written at the time Lao Tzu and Confucius was reading it.  In a sense, we would be contemporaries because we would be reading the exact same text.  I would no longer have to rely on translations of the translations which had been translated from the original texts.

Thank you, ancestors.  Thank you so very much.

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The Trưng Sisters (Part 2)

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(…continued from Part 1)

His name was Dương Thi.  He was barely 20 years old when he married the headstrong, talented, intelligent, and beautiful Trưng Trắc, princess of the Mê Linh region, a province north of present-day Hà Nội.

His father, Dương Thái Bình, who was the king’s physician and also part of the royal family, ascended to the throne after the king’s death.  He ruled over the Châu Diên region which bordered the Mê Linh region.  This meant that Dương Thi was next in line for the throne of the small kingdom of Châu Diên, hence the importance of his marriage-of-state with princess Trưng Trắc.

Dương Thi was a shy and gentle scholar who was more suited to be a physician than a king.  He was, at heart, a healer, a philosopher, and a writer who was more interested in having peaceful, happy, well-fed, and healthy subjects than he was with fighting and opposing the enemy.  He was quite unlike his brash, bold wife, the beautiful and irascible Trưng Trắc, who was excellent at martial arts and the wielding of arms.  It was truly a perfect combination of yin and yang.  He tempered her with reasoned wisdom and she propelled his actions with force and intensity.

Soon after his marriage to Trưng Trắc, his father passed away, leaving behind the Châu Diên region for Thi Sách and his wife to govern.


Their rule should have been a long and prosperous one.

Unfortunately, at this time, there was a major occupation of the Han Chinese over the Vietnamese territories which had occurred back in 221 BC, after the Era of Warring States, starting with the Qin Dynasty, and later on the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

Under the rule of Zhou, many regions were culled together to create a huge Chinese Empire.  The kings of each small kingdoms were allowed to independently rule the regions they held, but they were under the jurisdiction and immediate control of the Chinese Emperor and the henchmen who were sent to keep the small kingdoms in line.

The henchman who was sent to carry out the orders of the Chinese Emperor was General Tô Định.

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According to the history books, Tô Định was cruel and merciless, taking lives and property without impunity.  He established a stronghold in the Châu Diên region that Dương Thi ruled and there he maintained his strong-arm hold of brutality.  The villagers endured countless harsh treatment and continued harassment and pillage under the administration of General Tô Định and his men.  The brutality got so bad that they could no longer endure the harshness of his militia-style enforcement.  They grouped together and went to king Dương Thi for intervention and assistance.

Meanwhile, Tô Định was busy ravaging other areas that had come under his jurisdiction.  His arm of influence reached out across that entire region which also included the neighboring Mê Linh region, which was north of present day Sông Hồng (Red River) or Yuan River (沅江), where Trưng Trắc’s mother, Man Thiện ruled as queen.  As strong as she had to be, she could not afford to raise shy girls who did nothing but embroidery all day.  They had to be strong.  They had to be able to handle the day-to-day workings of holding the reigns.  They had to be political scholars and educated in the art and science of warfare.  They had to know how to fight with arms and without.  They had to be strong women, just as she herself was strong.

The Trưng sisters were that and much, much more.  The were also exquisite beauties, their various talents, well-known.  This soon reached the ears of General Tô Định, who decided that he had to have one of the daughters as his wife and consort.  The elder of the twins was already married to king Dương Thi, but the other was still single.

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He was determined to gain Trưng Nhị for himself.

It did not take him long before he took his armed forces to visit Queen Man Thiện.  The queen received his visits gracefully, but declined his numerous attempts at courtship towards her remaining unmarried daughter, Trưng Nhị.  She absolutely did not want any of her children near this cruel and vicious man.

He was still trying, in vain, to obtain Trưng Nhị, by hook or by crook when he received a letter from Dương Thi, demanding that Tô Định desist in his cruel tactics towards the citizens of the realm or face retribution.  The tone of the letter was such that it raised Tô Định’s wrath against Dương Thi to such an intense level that he immediately took his retinue back to the Châu Diên region with the intention of killing two birds with one stone.

The Trưng sisters were twins.  One was just as good as the other, but with the added zest and excitement of a personal conquest and domination from of the hands of a pesky local overlord, Trưng Trắc became a prize to be obtained by force.  She would be his trophy, his spoils of war.  He was going to have to deal with this rogue lesser-king in person and claim his prize.

Upon returning to Châu Diên, he immediately sought out king Dương Thi at his family home.  There ensued a great shouting match and then a huge fight.  Although Dương Thi was more a scholar than a fighter, his role demanded that he also learn martial arts.  Unfortunately, outnumbered and caught unawares and weaponless within the walls of his own home, he and his entire extended Dương family was murdered to the last man, woman, and child, their home razed and burned to the ground.

Unable to defend queen Trưng Trắc, a small retinue of his followers fled, taking her back to her mother’s home, in Mê Linh for protection.  Heartbroken and in anguish over the loss of her beloved husband, Trưng Trắc was not allowed any time to mourn for her great loss.  Instead, she spent the next year in hiding, moving about her mother’s lands, holing up in one cave or another, moving from forest glen to mountain temple, and barely existing just to evade her pursuer, Tô Định, and his men.

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It was here, somewhere amongst the catacombs of caves within the tall ancient forests of Mê Linh  that Trưng Trắc, along with her sister Trưng Nhị and their queen mother, hatched out a plan to extract revenge for the murder of her husband, king Dương Thi.

It was a doozie of a plan!

(…to be continued)