Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm

Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm

Khiem (right) is shown here alongside Sun Yat-sen and Victor Hugo as a Cao Dai saint.
Born 1491
Died 1585
Nationality Annam
Other names Trạng Trình (狀程)
Occupation Magistrate, poet, educator
Known for Khiem's oracular poetry has been compared to that of Nostradamus. It contains the earliest known use of the word "Vietnam."

Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (; 1491 1585) was a Vietnamese administrator, educator, poet, sage and later a saint of the Cao Dai religion. He is referred to by several names: tên huý Nguyễn Văn Đạt, Hanh Phủ (亨甫), Bạch Vân cư sĩ (白雲居士, White Cloud Hermit) and Trạng Trình.


Born on the coast in Cổ Am village (which is now part of Hai Phong). As an adult, he studied knowledge from the second-rank doctor Lương Đắc Bằng and passed the official government examination at the fairly late age of 44 in the exams of 1535. However, he passed the exam, ranking number one in the country. This was a period of great instability in Vietnam which may explain why he took the exam at such a late age. He served in the Mạc Dynasty court for just seven years until 1542 when he resigned after his official complaints of government corruptions were ignored. He then returned to his native village and opened a school. Among his students were Phùng Khắc Khoan (diplomat), Lương Hữu Khánh, Nguyễn Dữ (author of Truyền kỳ mạn lục).

Khiêm became a person much sought after by many leaders during that time of upheaval, civil war, the Mạc collapse, and the rise of the Trịnh Lords and Nguyễn Lords. Both Trịnh Kiểm and Nguyễn Hoàng purportedly sought his advice in their pursuit of power. To the former, he gave the advice of being the real power behind the (restored) Lê Dynasty. To the latter, he advised building a base of power in the undeveloped south.[1] Both men followed these suggestions, resulting in a political and military division of Vietnam that would last for 200 years. As a result of this sage advice, Khiêm gained a reputation as someone who could foretell the future. Some of his prophecies were of a Delphic nature as they were ambiguous and could be read in several ways.[2]

Khiêm was also a poet, composing many poems in Chinese and Nôm that have survived to this day. There is a long poem attributed to him called Sấm Trạng Trình (讖狀程, The Prophecies of Trạng Trình).[3] (Trạng Trình is one of Khiêm's nicknames.)

This is the Vietnamese equivalent of the Nostradamus quatrains. It is suggestive, believed to predict future events, and very mysterious. This poem includes the line, "Vietnam is being created" (Vietnamese: Việt Nam khởi tổ xây nền),[3] an early use of the word "Vietnam".

Most cities in Vietnam have named major streets after him.[4]


  1. Nghia M. Vo -Saigon: A History 2011 Page 13 "South Vietnam would not have existed had it not been fed by a relentless movement of Vietnamese southwards. ... advice of sage Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (1491–1585), who told him the future would be better for him in the south: “Hoành Sơn nhất ..."
  2. Anh Thư Hà, Hò̂ng Đức Trà̂n A brief chronology of Vietnam's history 2000 Page 133 "Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm - The Vietnamese people extol Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm as the Number One Oracle (Prophet) of Vietnam because he made a series of predictions to the benefit of posterity, which were referred to as “Divinations of Trạng (First ..."
  3. 1 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, "Sấm Trạng Trình"
  4. Vietnam 2002/2003 Country Map (4th ed.). Periplus Travel Maps. August 2002. ISBN 0-7946-0070-0.
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