"Nguyen Du (1765-1820) and Nguyen De (1761-1805) were from the Nghi Xuan district in Nghe An defense command in what is today central Vietnam.' They were brothers by their father's third wife. Their family was known for its literary talents and for its integrity. During times of dynastic transition in premodern East Asia, such integrity pushed literati down different paths. Some felt the paramount duty of any literatus was to serve in government and that this duty outweighed considerations oflegitimacy. |
Others argued that one should only serve legitimate claimants to the throne and that it was better to retire from office and cultivate oneself than serve an illegitimate regime. When the Tay Son overthrew the Le dynasty in the last years of the eighteenth century, Nguyen Du and Nguyen De, both scholars of sound integrity, contemplated the options before them and chose different paths.
Nguyen De served the Tay Son, first by assisting them in writing diplomatic documents, then by serving as an envoy to the North (Qing Dynasty China), and finally by accepting a post in their government. Nguyen Du, on the other hand, refused to serve what he probably saw as an illegitimate dynasty, choosing instead to retire from the world and roam about the ninety-nine peaks of Hong Linh Mountain (Hong Linh son)." It was not until 1802, when the Nguyen dynasty was established, and Du was almost forty years old, that he finally accepted an official post."
From Liam Kelley's book on Vietnamese envoy poetry, The Bronze Pillars.