These elephant-riding warrior sisters freed ancient Vietnam from Chinese rule

From atop their war elephants, the Trung sisters ousted China's Han overlords in A.D. 40. They have since become heroic icons to Vietnamese people all over the world.

For nearly 2,000 years, the Trung sisters and their elephants have been popular subjects in Vietnamese art, like this 1999 embroidery from Tam Coc, Vietnam.
HALIA TRAN-ADAMS

From the grounds of a modest temple in the suburbs of Hanoi, Vietnam, to the streets of Southern California, Paris, France, and Sydney, Australia, Vietnamese people across four continents celebrate the lives of two women from the first century A.D., the Trung sisters, on their death anniversary every year, the sixth day of the second lunar month. 

Often depicted as mounted on elephants, these two women commanded a successful rebellion against the Han (Chinese) dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) in A.D. 40. To honor these national heroes, Vietnamese peoples, past and present, make offerings and put on parades with colorful elephant floats, waving the flags of the respective national regimes to which they profess allegiance. They reenact the uprising, sometimes with live elephants, to celebrate two women who defied the power of the Han state and defeated them nearly a thousand years before an independent state emerged. These performances remind the participants, their descendants, and audiences of the sisters’ contribution to the country now known as Vietnam. 

The sisters live on in much more than these ephemeral commemorations of their uprising. Historical sources show that for nearly 2,000 years, the sisters have served as spirit guardians to their homeland, which has called on the Trung sisters in times of need.

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