Thu Chong

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Vietnamese History: Traditional Chinese account

The Chinese traditional historical accounts on the Trưng sisters are remarkably brief. They are found in two different chapters of Hou Han Shu, the history for the Eastern Han Dynasty, against which the Trưng sisters had carried out their uprising.

Chapter eighty six of Hou Han Shu, entitled Biographies of the Southern and the Southwestern Barbarians,[2] has this short description:

In the 16th year of Jianwu [40], Jiaozhi (Giao Chỉ) [modern northern Vietnam and extreme western Guangdong and western Guangxi] women Zhēng Cè (Trưng Trắc) and Zhēng Èr (Trưng Nhị) rebelled and attacked the commandery capital. Zhēng Cè was the daughter of the sheriff of Miling (Mê Linh; 麊泠) County, and she married a man named Shi Suo (Thi Sách; 詩索) from ….(Chu Diên) [3] She was a ferocious warrior. Su Ding (蘇定), the governor of Jiaozhi Commandery, curbed her with laws. Cè became angry and rebelled. The barbarian towns of Jiuzhen, Rinan, and Hepu Commanderies all joined her, and she captured sixty five cities and claimed to be queen. The governors of Jiaozhi Province and the commanderies could only defend themselves. Emperor Guangwu therefore ordered the Changsha, Hepu, and Jiaozhi Commanderies to prepare wagons and boats, to repair the roads and bridges, to open the mountain passes, and to save food supplies. In the 18th year 42, he sent Ma Yuan the General Fupuo and Duan Zhi (段志) the General Lochuan to lead ten odd thousands of men from Changsha, Guiyang, Linling, and Cangwu Commanderies against them. In the summer of the next year 43, Ma recaptured Jiaozhi and killed Zhēng Cè, Zhēng Èr, and others in battle, and the rest scattered. He also attacked Du Yang (都陽), a rebel of the Jiuzhen Commandery, and Du surrendered and was moved, along with some 300 of his followers to Lingling Commandery. The border regions were thus pacified.

Chapter twenty four, the biographies of Ma and some of his notable male descendants, had a parallel description that also added that Ma was able to impress the locals by creating irrigation networks to help the people and also by simplifying and clarifying the Han laws, and was able to get the people to follow Han’s laws.

The traditional Chinese account therefore does not indicate abuse of the Vietnamese population by the Chinese officials. However, it also implicitly disavowed the traditional Vietnamese accounts of massive cruelty and of the Chinese official killing Trưng Trắc’s husband. There was further no indication that the Trưng sisters committed suicide, that other followers followed example and did so, or that the Chinese army fought naked to win the battle. Indeed, Ma, known in Chinese history for his strict military discipline, would not have likely carried out cruel or unusual tactics.

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