Leaders of Civ VI - Bà Triệu
Bà Triệu leads Vietnam in the strategy game, Civilization 6. In life, Lady Triệu led a rebellion against the Eastern Chinese Wu Empire. Her life was short, and her spirit was strong, that is why she ascended to mythical status after her death at the age of 22. Who exactly was Bà Triệu, and how did she lead an effective rebellion at such a young age?
The Invasion of Sun Wu
During the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history (220-280 CE), the Eastern Wu Empire was one of the main contenders vying for dominance over China. It had been a vassal of its northern neighbor, Cao Wei, up until 222 CE.
At the time of Bà Triệu's rebellion against Sun Wu in Northern Vietnam, the Eastern Wu were led by Sun Quan, who declared himself Emperor of Wu in 229 CE. Throughout his reign, he was engaged in wars of territorial expansion against his Northern and Western neighbors. The rebellion in Vietnam would have barely registered on his radar, but for the people of Vietnam it was a big deal.
During the time of Bà Triệu the territories that are today Northern Vietnam were part of the Jiaozhou region. The occupation originated during the Han Dynasty in 111 CE, and would last until 968 CE.
As we saw with Ambiorix's rebellion, leaders of great "civilized" nations often refer to anyone outside their rule as barbarians. The same went for the Sun Wu, who ruled over Northern Vietnam. Lạc Việt people were often referred to as barbarians by their overlords.
Many rebellions erupted here throughout the centuries, but against the might of the Eastern Wu Empire, they were doomed to fail. The people of Lạc Việt, and later Vietnam, would remember the spirit of these brave freedom fighters. Later, the heroes from this era would inspire the people of Vietnam to drive off all foreign invaders.
Who were the Lạc Việt
The Lạc Việt people were an ethnic group that originated in Southern China. They were proficient at rice farming and were known as the Đông Sơn Culture after the discovery of artifacts near the modern village of Đông Sơn.
According to the existing mythology, the Lạc Việt followed a giant crane that led them out of Southern China and into the Red River Delta. They settled in the swampy marshes, and with their mastery of irrigation, they were able to cultivate rice in flooded paddies.
They were conquered by the Âu Việt in 257 BCE, who were themselves conquered by the Nanyue Chinese in 180 BCE. After the defeat of Nanyue, they fell under the control of the Western Han Empire. When the Western Han fractured, the province of Jiaozhou fell under the control of the Eastern Wu. So essentially they had been under the thumb of every local power for hundreds of years.
They didn't just submit to foreign rule, though. Several rebellions sprang up over the centuries, some more successful than others. Famously, there was the Trung Sisters' rebellion in 39 CE. They led a disgruntled populace against the Chinese attempts at colonizing and 'civilizing' the Lạc Việt.
119 years later, another Vietnamese woman led a rebellion against the Chinese. Her given name was lost to history, but they called her Triệu Thị Trinh, or Lady Triệu.
The Golden Robed General Rises
Lady Triệu was born in 226 CE in the Eastern Wu province of Jiaozhou. Her early life is a complete mystery, and much of what we do know comes from legends about her. The Sun Wu were not in the habit of recording or glorifying their enemies.
What we do know is that Lady Trieu was born into a powerful family. She would have been raised in relative luxury, as much as could be expected for a woman in a traditional Confucian society. Ba Trieu lost her parents when she was young, and she was sent to live with her brother, Trieu Quoc Dat. He was a leader in the Quu Chan District. His wife was, allegedly, cruel and tried to dominate Lady Triệu.
Bà Triệu was a strong-willed woman who struggled against the yoke of her brother's Confucian expectations. He wanted her to get married and become subservient to her husband. Lady Triệu had other ideas.
She killed her abusive sister-in-law, this was her first act of destroying her oppressors. Her brother seemed unfazed, but his perspective wasn't recorded. Perhaps he was relieved to be rid of his abusive wife too, perhaps he was just scared of his sister.
Famously, Trieu Quoc Dat tried to dissuade Bà Triệu from the road to rebellion. He scolded her for shirking her traditional role. All while planning his own rebellion against their Chinese overlords. This is what she had to say:
"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?"
At the tender age of 19, she gathered 1000 warriors to a camp on Nua Mountain. There she trained the men in the art of war. In no time, she whipped them into an elite strike force. Her army would taste battle soon enough.
Likely inspired by his sister's valor, Trieu Quoc Dat raised his own army and rebelled. They raided the Eastern Wu citadels, plundering the riches within and punishing the invaders.
Not to be outdone, Bà Triệu led her warriors down from the mountains to join the fighting. She rode atop a mighty war elephant and led with such competence and fury that her brother's soldiers soon swore allegiance to her instead. Lady Triệu became known as the Golden Robed General (Nhụy Kiều Tướng quân) because she always wore a yellow tunic and golden hairpins into battle.
Under her leadership, they took over many cities from the Wu Chinese.
The Fires of War
Bà Triệu's army won 30 battles against the Wu Chinese. They even managed to kill the governor of Jiaozhou. Her magnetic leadership drew thousands of people to her cause.
The Chinese accounts of the time mention her rebellion, but they conspicuously omit the fact that it was led by a woman. This is likely due to their strict adherence to Confucianism, and the belief that women are inferior to men. People with strong beliefs tend to double down on said beliefs when confronted with evidence that disproves those beliefs.
The same could not be said for the Wu Chinese soldiers who faced Bà Triệu's guerrilla warfare. She became a terrifying figure of myth to her opponents. They claimed that her mere stare could paralyze her foes. Her guerrilla tactics would become a hallmark of Vietnamese warfare for centuries to come.
Eventually, the Wu Chinese could dismiss the threat she posed no longer. They sent a famous general, Lu Yin (Lục Dận), to pacify the region. He approached the rebellion from a humanitarian point of view. By listening to the needs of the people in the region, he was able to pacify many of them with bribes and other gifts. Having subdued a large portion of the populace, he set his sights on Lady Triệu's army.
Lu Yin started his campaign against Bà Triệu by bribing her soldiers. He would pay any warrior willing to turn against their lady handsomely. Despite her soldiers deserting, she managed to resist Lu Yin's army for another 6 months before being defeated. The 50,000 households that had rallied to her call scattered to the winds. Jiaozhou fell once again to Wu Chinese rule.
Fate of the Golden Warrior
Most accounts of Bà Triệu's life were written hundreds of years after her death. Accounts vary wildly concerning her defeat and where she actually died. The truth is that her army was smashed in 248 CE.
After her death, however it happened, she ascended to the status of Immortal, a status above the level of the ancestors. These Immortals are basically gods, and Lady Triệu has become venerated as such.
Some stories hold that she was slain in the final battle. Dying heroically atop her war elephant, defiant to her final breath. Other tales tell of her retreat into the mountains. There she is said to have committed suicide by jumping into a river, just like the Trung Sisters after their rebellion was crushed.
Subsequent rulers tried to claim Bà Triệu as one of their own. She was venerated in the early Lý Dynasty, by Emperor Lý Nam Đế who had a temple built in her honor. He gave her the title of Most Noble, Heroic and Virgin Lady (Bật chính anh hùng tài trinh nhất phu nhân).
The only problem was that she did not fit into their Confucian ideology. Try as they might, they just could not get her to fit in the box. Descriptions of Lady Triệu from the time describe her as a three meter (9 ft) tall giantess with pendulous breasts that she tied behind her back during battles.
Depictions of a giant golden warrior with 1.2 meter breasts, riding an elephant and succeeding as a general before ascending to godhood might be an attempt at consolidating Bà Triệu with Confucian ideals. After all, while women are inferior to men (according to Confucius), she was superior to men. Therefore, she had to be a goddess. At least, that's Dr Craig Lockard's idea on the matter.
Bà Triệu is a woman who could not be controlled. She fought against the bondage of her people and of her gender. Before the Chinese occupied Vietnam, the women of the region were more equal to the men than under Confucianism. Women like Bà Triệu and the Trung Sisters stand as a testament to the unbreakable warrior spirit of Vietnamese women.