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Who was the warrior woman, Le Chan?

Le Chen

The Chinese

In 111BC, Han Chinese troops invaded northern Vietnam and annexed the whole of the Red River Delta region, renaming it the Jiaozhi commandary. They made demands to the Viet people in the form of high tributary payments. They monopolized the production of salt and iron for their personal gains. They also forced assimilation of their culture throughout the population. Confucianism was introduced, along with a rigid, feudalistic hierarchy dominated by a mandarin class. Han Chinese held the top administrative posts and their rule became intolerably exacting. Inevitably feelings of resentment began to fester among the oppressed populace. Struggles were often led by members of the Vietnamese aristocracy. Skirmishes between the Chinese authority and Vietnamese people occurred mainly in the outer Tonking provinces.

The Trung Sisters

Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were born in Me Linh, a rural Vietnamese village. Their father was the village prefect and head of a military family, which meant the sisters grew up well-versed in the martial arts. They spent much time studying the art of warfare, weaponry and fighting skills. They also witnessed the cruel treatment of the Viets by their Chinese overlords. When the prefect of neighbouring Chu Dien came to visit Me Linh, he brought with him his son, Thi Sach. Although youthful, Thi Sach was permitted to attend the military planning meetings with the Me Linh chief and other leaders from the neighbouring areas. He aspired to avenge his country using his acquired war-waging skills. He recruited other young men and women patriots to join his insurrection against the Chinese.

During one of his visits with his father to the headquarters of the Me Linh military chief, Thi Sach met the Trung sisters. Shortly thereafter, he befriended Trung Trac. As time passed, romantic feelings developed between Thi Sach and Trung Trac, which resulted in a marriage. The united couple from two military families gave hope to the villagers.

The exploitation and forced assimilation of Vietnamese people by the Hans became ever more ruthless. Thi Sach and his wife, Trung Trac, violently opposed and protested against these Chinese practices. Their resistance so infuriated the Chinese that they eventually ordered the execution of Thi Sach as a warning to other Vietnamese rebels. Rather than intimidate the Vietnamese people, this cruel act merely provoked them further. The local population and military leaders jointly declared war on the Hans.

Trung Trac took up the cause of her late husband and the flames of insurrection spread. In 39AD, the Trung Sisters successfully repelled a small Chinese unit from their village and set about assembling a large army, which consisted mostly of women. Together, Trung Trac and her sister, Trung Nhi, rallied their troops to fight against the Chinese. By 40AD, Trung Trac was able to stand in full military regalia to address the 30,000 soldiers gathered at the Hat estuary. The Trung Sisters led their troops to fight against the Chinese and within months, armed with military skills and a passion for independence, had regained control of sixty-five citadels.

Le Chan

Le Chan was also born in An Bien village, under Dong Trieu district, Quang Ninh province. Her father was Le Dao, a teacher, and a medicine person; her mother was Tran Thi Chau. Le Chan's beauty and good character attracted the Chinese Governor, To Dinh, who wanted to take her as a wife in his harem. Her family was protested and she had to hide herself in the coastal village of An Duong, Kinh Mon. Unable to marry her, To Dinh put her family to death. Le Chan determined to avenge them and, along with other families, set up Ven hamlet - afterwards renamed An Bien hamlet - where the Tam Bac River met the Cam River. Her new home became a revolutionary base where for ten years she collected volunteer soldiers and trained hard.

When the Trung Sisters rebelled, Le Chan and her volunteer soldiers joined the insurrection. Within months they had helped to take back the sixty-five citadels from the Chinese, and had liberated the region. The Trung Sisters became queens of the country, and Le Chan was nominated for the position of 'Chuong quan binh quyen noi bo' with responsibility of defending Hai Tan region.

In 42AD, Ma Vien, a Dong Han general led a great navy and land army along northeast lines to put down the insurrection. Despite facing overwhelming odds, the army of women took to the battlefields once more. Legend tells of Phung Thi Chinh, a pregnant noble lady who was the captain of a group of soldiers that were to protect the central flank. She gave birth on the frontline, and with her baby in one arm, and a sword in the other, continued to fight the battle. Le Chan also directly led her troops to fight against the Chinese forces, causing them to suffer great losses, but the overall situation was unfavourable. She had to withdraw the troops to Me Linh base.

End game

Despite their many heroic efforts, the Trung Sisters realised that they had been defeated and that to fight further would mean certain death at the hands of the Chinese. Therefore, to protect their honour and to elude ridicule, the two queens committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Hat River (AD 43). Some of their loyal soldiers continued to fight to the death whilst others committed suicide, including Phung Thi Chinh, who also took her newborn baby's life. Le Chan and her troops still continued to resist violently. Inevitably, however, a disadvantageous situation become a hopeless one. Having become exhausted, Le Chan drowned herself in the King Thay river, thereby preserving her virginity in death.

Nghe Temple

After her death, a temple - known today as Nghe Temple - was built to honour her in Ma region by the people of An Bien. For a long time it remained a small temple with a thatched roof, but in 1919 it was spaciously rebuilt and has now become one of the most famous places of historical interest in the locality.

Legend has it that Le Chan was wise in life and supernatural in death. When she threw herself into the river, she turned into a stone that miraculously floated on the river surface from Dong Trieu area to her old homeland to Ben Binh. An Bien villagers, who believed that Le Chan had become a genie, brought rods and robes to pick up the sacred stone and carry it back to the village. Suddenly a storm began to rage and the robes broke. Then the place where the stone dropped was chosen to build the temple for worshipping Le Chan.

The temple has two main halls: the front worshiping hall and the sanctuary. On the roof of the front worshiping hall there is the inscription: 'An Bien co mieu' (An Bien Ancient Shrine). A statue of Le Chan was placed in the sanctuary, with altars for worshipping her parents on either side.

The statue of Le Chan in Hai Phong

In Hai Phong, her statue is located in front of the City Exhibition House, at the western end of the city centre parks. The statue is made of bronze and stands 7.49m high. With its pedestal, it measures 10.09m and weighs 19 tons. On top of her head, the feather alone stands 0.7m high. In all, the statue is the second biggest in Vietnam, after Hung Dao Vuong Statue in Nam Dinh. It has been built to withstand earthquakes measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale.

The statue was designed by two artists, Nguyen Phuc Cuong and Nguyen Manh Cuong. Their design, presenting Le Chan with her hand leaning on a sword, expressing the bravery of a new regional founder, was selected from more than forty works that were judged in a national contest between 1996 and 2000. The casting was undertaken by the Hai Phong Brass Casting Company, and was paid for using money donated by local citizens and overseas Vietnamese. It took only one night to set the statue up; it was inaugurated on 31st December 2000, ushering in the first day of 21st century.

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