The History Of Me Linh Square

The tides of history are reflected in the use of a park in the center of HCM City

The term Me Linh reminds Vietnamese of two national heroines, the sisters Trung Trac and Trung Nhi. The sisters led a revolt against the domination of the Han Emperor from China. Trung Trac’s husband, General Thi Sach, was killed by the Han rulers because he did not submit to them. In the year 42 A.D., Trung Trac and her younger sister, Trung Nhi, started a resistance movement against the Han rulers and quickly drove them out of Vietnam.

She then proclaimed herself empress and settled in Me Linh, making it the capital of Vietnam. Three years later, the Han emperor assigned famous general Ma Vien to Vietnam to suppress the revolt and reinstate the Han rule. The two sisters could not stand against Ma Vien’s strong army and were pushed to a critical situation in Cam Khe. They drowned themselves in the river rather than surrender. Their feats and spirit have been warmly remembered by Vietnamese.

In HCM City, Me Linh Square is on Ton Duc Thang Street facing the Saigon River. The square stands near the Me Linh Point Tower and the Renaissance Riverside Hotel. Hai Ba Trung and Thi Sach streets, names linked to the sisters, also start there.

Under French rule, the square bore the name Rigault de Genouilly, after a commander of the French navy in the Far East. De Genouilly’s navy, together with British troops, attacked and seized Guangzhou in China in February 1857. In August of the same year, De Genouilly moved his navy southward and attacked Danang as a show of French strength and to protest the Nguyen Dynasty’s ban on Christianity in Vietnam. In February 1859, Vice Admiral De Genouilly commanded the French troops in an attack to seize Gia Dinh, the protective citadel of Saigon, marking the beginning of the French takeover of Vietnam. De Genouilly then returned to France and won a seat in the French parliament in 1860. In 1864, he became minister of the navy and the French colonies. He died in 1873. In 1879, a bronze statue of De Genouilly was erected at the present site of Me Linh Square. During the August Revolution in 1945, Vietnamese patriots took the statue away and the French rulers could not regain it.

At the Me Linh Square today is the statue of Marshall Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnamese general under the Tran Dynasty in the 13th century. Tran Hung Dao defeated the strong Mongol troops three times during their invasion into Vietnam. He has been recognized worldwide as a top military strategist and is someone Vietnamese are very proud of.

One big issue about the square is whether, as its name suggests, it should have the statues of the Trung sisters instead of Marshall Tran Hung Dao. In fact, the statues of the Trung sisters were erected there in the early 1960s under the regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem. The Saigonese at that time thought that the face of Trung Trac looked like Madam Tran Le Xuan, wife of advisor Ngo Dinh Nhu and sister-in-law of President Diem. The Diem regime, which was criticized for nepotism, collapsed in 1963. Diem and Nhu were killed. At that time Tran Le Xuan was not in Vietnam. She had to live abroad until the end of her life. The statues of the Trung sisters were destroyed, and the statue of Marshall Tran Hung Dao was erected at the square instead.

In HCM City now there is a solemn temple dedicated to the Trung sisters. The temple, on Hoang Hoa Tham Street in Binh Thanh District, has a pair of white elephants. The sisters used to ride elephants into battle with the Han troops.

In the center of Me Linh Square today is a beautiful park with colorful flowers. Many Saigonese go there for physical exercise in the early morning or to enjoy the fresh breeze from the river in the hot afternoon.


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