Nguyễn Khuyến was born on 15 February 1835 in his mother-in-law hometown Văn Khế village, Hoàng Xá commune, Ý Yên district, Nam Định province. His father-in-law home town is Và village, Yên Đổ commune, Bình Lục district, Hà Nam province. His father who was a teacher is Nguyễn Tông Khởi (1796–1853). His mother is Trần Thị Thoan (1799–1874) whose father is Trần Công Trạc.
His first teacher is Phạm Văn Nghị. Although his intelligence and high knowledge, his examination path was not in favourable condition. In 1864, he passed the Cử nhân degree (or: Hương Cống, Chinese: 鄉貢, the lowest degree of Vietnames feudal educational system) at first-rate in Hà Nội. One year later, unfortunately, he failed Hội examination that was why he lived in Hanoi to learn in Quốc Tử Giám (National University). He continued to study. Furthermore, to remind himself in iron discipline and mobilize himself, he changed his given name from Nguyễn Thắng to Nguyễn Khuyến. In Vietnamese language, Thắng only means success or victory but Khuyến has a stronger meaning that is inspiration or stimulation; Thắng is the result but Khuyến is the way toward result (Vietnamese people have a good tradition named "Khuyến Học"- Study Encouragement). After six years of exertion, he passed the Hội Nguyên degree and the Đình Nguyên degree continuously in only one year 1871. This case has been very rare throughout history, so people gave him an honourable name: "Tam Nguyên Yên Đổ" (Yên Đổ's first-rate graduate in three times).
He was responsible for Mandarin in the age of French invasion. All events happened like his text in Đình Nguyên examination twelve previous years: "The carriage does not come toward because the horses do not want to pull as well as the political situation does not become better because people do not want to do. Are there no talent in life? It is completely untrue". When patriotic movements such as "Cần Vương" ("Seeking the King") were fired out and his dream of "Trị quốc, bình thiên hạ" (leading the country, pacifying the world) was not realized, he landed in an impasse. He recognized his powerlessness of changing condition and was awarded deeply of the decline of Vietnamese feudalism. He was one of first Vietnamese people criticizing feudalism system that is conservative and unrealistic. In 1884, he withdrew from public life and reculde himself in Yên Đổ as the action showing incorporation with French enemy. This was also the time he found back the relaxation in his soul in simple and tranquil life in countryside.
The more disadvantages he met in his life, the more talented he became in his writing. He was the hyphen between classical literature and modern literature. He was both a prominent lyric poet and an outstanding satirical poet. He reached the peak of Nôm letter's literature. He was the first Vietnamese poet who put realism opinions in classism poems. Among his best poems are: "Group of three poems about Autumn: Fishing in Autumn, Drinking in Autumn, Versing on Autumn" which express the sad and loneliness and "Paper Doctor" which ridicule incapable Scholars. In addition, he was one of a little upper-class poets wrote about poor farmers in praising attitude. Reviewing all his life, he only taught his children about deep gratitude toward farmers: "Being Scholar, do not forget rice, beans and eggplants".
He died on 5 February 1909 in his hometown Yên Đổ.
- J. Wills Burke Origines: the streets of Vietnam : a historical companion 2001 "NGUYỂN KHUYỂN (1835 - 1909) Nguyễn Khuyến, who wrote under the pen name Quế Sơn, was also krrown as Yên Ðổ, the name of his home village in Hà Nam Province. Raised in a mandarin family, Khuyến was a poet and a Scholar of the first rank. He scored “first Scholar laureate” on three levels Of the feudal examinations - and he did it at three different times. While Serving the Nguyễn Dynasty at the Huế Court, he lost faith in royal authority and subsequently resigned his position. He retumed to Yên Ðổ and refused to Cooperate with the French Colonial authorities."