A Woman to Know: Lady Triệu

The stories that grew up about her tell us much about both the dreams of Vietnamese women of the fears of the men who fought, followed or heard of such women. — historian David G. Marr

(image via American Museum of Natural History)


They call her "The Lady General Clad in Golden Robe" and "the Vietnamese Joan of Arc." Both made history as 19-year-old heroines, women warriors defying gender roles to lead revolutions. But Triệu rode into battle more than 1,000 years before Joan was even born.

In the third century, soldiers followed the teenage heroine in a decades-long rebellion against the Chinese rule of Vietnam. She's remembered today in near-mythical descriptions, as a 9-foot-tall goddess who rode into battle brandishing two swords, wearing her trademark golden robes and commanding a giant elephant. She fought the Chinese for more than 30 years, liberating her own territory just before her death on the battlefield. As she told her family when they had earlier begged her to retire from the rebellion:

Why should I imitate others, bow my head and stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework? ... I'd like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man.

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