Bà Triệu, or Triệu Thị Trinh, was a Vietnamese warrior and military commander in the 3rd century who fought against the occupying forces of the Chinese Wu Kingdom.
An orphan of noble birth, Triệu grew up among her brother’s family as a slave. At the age of 19 she declared her intention to become a warrior to fight against the Wu, who controlled Vietnam at that time and had purged more than 10,000 people. When her brother tried to prevent her leaving she is famously quoted as rebuking him with the words: “I want to ride the storm, tread the dangerous waves, win back the fatherland and destroy the yoke of slavery. I don’t want to bow down my head, working as a simple housewife.”
Triệu was successful in raising an army of around 1000 men and women, which she led north from the Cu-phong District to engage the Chinese in open rebellion. Despite the relatively small size of her army she was successful in defeating the Wu in over 30 separate battles within a period of 2 years.
While Triệu’s war effort allowed her to carve out her own portion of Vietnam for a time, her success was a humiliation for the Wu, especially as their Confucian beliefs emphasised the natural inferiority of women. In response the Taizu Emperor of Wu sent huge numbers of troops to the Vietnamese frontier. While Triệu’s army held out for several months in the face of this new onslaught, she was ultimately killed in battle in the year 248.
Following her death and the consolidation of Chinese rule, Triệu was immortalised in Vietnamese folklore as a supernatural hero, often depicted riding into battle astride an elephant wielding dual golden swords.