Triệu Thị Trinh was born in the Nông Cống district of Vietnam in 225, a time where the Chinese occupied much of Vietnam, persecuting the native inhabitants of the land. From a young age Triệu Thị Trinh was left alone with her older brother, orphans trying to survive. Her elder brother married, and Triệu Thị Trinh having no other options was forced to live with them in their house. She was continually mistreated by her sister-in-law, a mean woman who would do her best to provoke Triệu Thị Trinh and abuse her at every given opportunity.
One day Triệu Thị Trinh snapped in response and killed her sister-in-law in a fit of anger. Scared at the repercussions she would face, Triệu Thị Trinh fled to the hills and made herself a camp.
After much searching, her older brother discovered her hide-away and begged Triệu Thị Trinh to return to the village. During her time in the hills his sister had grown fierce; she was now known as Lady Triệu and had assembled a band of one thousand resistance fighters beneath her. Responding to her brother’s pleas to return, Triệu Thị Trinh stood before him and cried:
“I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, clean up frontiers, and save the people from drowning. Why should I imitate others, bow my head, stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework?”
Her brother was inspired by her impassioned words, and immediately abandoned his plans to retrieve his sister home. Instead, he joined her assembled army to fight beside her.
Lady Triệu and her band of warriors became legendary as they held the invading Ngô (Chinese mandarin armies) from their land. She was renowned for both her fighting prowess and the huge war elephant she would ride into battle, perched atop its head and clad in her distinctive yellow robe. She struck such a ferocious figure that people began to tell stories of her legend. Some claimed she was nine foot tall, and possessed three-foot-long breasts that she would tie securely behind her back so they would not impede her combat skills.
A Folk Art Depiction of Lady Triệu – Public Domain via WikiCommons
The Ngô were afraid of her seemingly unbeatable warrior expertise, she continued to prevail despite the odds against her until finally one commander figured out a way to outsmart her. Learning that Lady Triệu was deathly afraid of uncleanliness and disorder he ordered his army to strip naked and kick up dirt the next time they faced her in battle. His soldiers did as they were bid, shaking their genitals at her as they kicked the ground, sending billowing clouds of dust into the air. Lady Triệu could stand it no longer and she turned tail and fled on her elephant, unable to cope with the scene before her. Embarrassed at her desertion of her army, Lady Triệu committed suicide in an attempt to save her own honor.
This wasn’t the end for Lady Triệu though. The Ngô still feared her, especially the commander that had foiled her. When a pestilence cursed his entire company, he feared that it was the ghost of Lady Triệu trying to find her revenge even in death. To try and protect himself and his men the commander ordered hundreds of carved penises from local craftsmen, covering their entire barracks in phallic emblems.
Some have compared Lady Triệu to a Vietnamese Joan of Arc; her determination to save her people and her land from bondage and enslavement was both inspirational and brave. She was a woman who wanted to ride the wind and walk the waves, and she did so with courage and conviction, and for that her legend lives on.
Find more on Lady Triệu, check out: Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945 By David G. Marr