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Cao Ba Quat was born into a scholarly simple family. In his childhood, he was well known for his cleverness, strong character, good literature and fine writing.
In 1831, he got Bachelor of Degree. In 1841, he was convened to the royal court and appointed an officer in the Department of Rites. When he was assigned to be an examiner at Huong examination in Thua Thien, he together with his friend Pham Nha corrected royally critical mistakes in excellent exam papers in order to help talented persons. Such bold actions were found and he sentenced to death but then King Thieu Tri pardoned him, just dismissed him.
Afterwards he joined the envoy to Singapore, he made some noted feat to compensate for his blames. After his return, he was restored to his former post and then promoted.
In 1854, he was Education Principal of Quoc Oai District. Because of his love for the miserable people and discontent at the feudal court, he followed Le Duy Cu as his advisor to fight the royal court. The peasant’s insurgence in My Luong failed; he was captured and executed together with his two sons.
Cao Ba Quat was born in Gia Lam, Bac Ninh (Hanoi today) to a poor family which had good scholarly and studious tradition. Right from his childhood, he was well known for his cleverness, good literature and fine hand-writing, quick eloquent reaction as well as his bold and unruly characters.
Once Quat went down to Thang Long from Bac Ninh for pleasure while King Minh Mang was visiting the North. That day, the King together with his convoy went sightseeing o Tay Lake.
The curious people gathered, pushed one another noisily over the lake bank. Cao Ba Quat was also present among the crowd. Finding it not easy to meet the King, the clever boy found out a bold scheme. He quickly took off his clothes, then jumped into the lake enjoying his bath naturally.
The royal troops had to handle the curious crowd with much difficultly, now they felt more confused and difficult to treat the naughty boy that was boldly bathing in the lake right at the time when the King came to enjoy the beautiful scene of the lake. Without a mere delay, some troops with spears in their hands waded into lake, seizing Quat and bring him ashore to rope him.
However, roping the boy was not an easy job. Quat was struggling hard with his hands waving around, legs kicking about and mouth shouting loudly. He caused such a disturbing sight that had ever seen.
At that time, the King’s palanquin just came. Hearing the noisy sounds outside, the King rolled up the curtain, looked out asking: “Is that the way the Northern people welcome me?”
Finding the King disappointed, the palanquin guard officer hurriedly reported the incident to the King. After hearing the story, the King could not help being angry; he ordered his men to bring the unruly boy before him for interrogation.
King Minh Mang was said to be talented at ruling the ruling the country but very hard and cold to merciless level. The King had used to have his maid’s head cuff off because of her careless touch on his cheek while she was fanning him during his sleep. There for, the people were very worried for the safety of the boy.
The troops asked Quat to put on his clothes and roped his hands tightly then brought him before the King. Quat declared that he came from the country, enjoyed bathing in the lake without notice of the King’s appearance. On finding the insolent trouble-maker just an innocent small boy, the King partly cooled his anger.
At the time, there was a school of fish chasing one another in the lake, the King felt highly inspired and wanted to test the talent of the pupil. He asked Quat:
- I’ll compose the first parallel sentence. If you can compose the second to make a good pair of parallel sentences, I’ll spare your life.
Hearing the order of the King, Quat right away clasped his hands and replied respectfully:
Yes! My Highest Majesty!
King Minh Mang composed the first sentence easily:
- In the clear water, fish is catching fish.
To everybody’s surprise, just a moment later Quat composed a very good parallel sentence:
- In the sunny sky, man is roping man.
The whole convoy of the King held their breath in silence, secretly looking at one another and wondering: “Where is this boy from? How dare he make a joke with the King?” They were waiting for a fury to happen.
The smile on the King’s lips disappeared, his face turn pale. He stood up. The boy parallel sentence was a surprise to the King, moreover it seemed to be ironic and insolent.
However, Quat was really lucky; King Minh Mang was a good and wise king who loved literature. He recognized the talent and bravery of the boy.
Finally, the King respected Quat’s talent for retort and he turned his anger into joy, having the smart and naughty boy untied and pardoning his deadly misdeed.
The people had been standing watching nearby. Finding the country boy was pardoned after he had been given a chance of composing parallel sentences with the King, they were very happy and they acclaimed “Long life” to the King. They praised the generosity of the King and admired the talent of the infant prodigy.
At the age of 12, Cao Ba Quat together with his twin brother Cao Ba Dat attended the examination. They finished and sent in their exam papers early. Not knowing what to do in the remaining time, they both went out to kick a shuttle cock in the yard.
One examiner came to them and reprimanded:
- At the exam compound, every candidate is trying his best to pass the exam. Are you coming here just for playing around?
Quat quickly replied:
- The exam is easy and we’re finished our exam papers so we’re just kicking shuttle cocks. We dare not play around here, teacher!
The official was very surprised at the smart and bright appearance of the boys. He required about their family then to try their talent, the official composed the first parallel sentence:
- Two boys of one fetus, difficult to tell the senior, the junior.
Without consulting with his brother, Quat kindly composed:
- One time in thousand years, lucky to have wise king, good subjects.
The court official goggled his eyes in amazement. How good the retort from such a small boy was! He nodded repeatedly and praised:
- So good! So good!
Right after that, the official ordered his man to open the gate for the two brothers to go home. He felt great admiration towards the boy.
Both of them passed that examination. On the ceremony of calling out the names of the successful candidates, everybody was very surprised to see that two new graduates were just two cute small boys with tufts of hair on the head.
As a small boy, Cao Ba Quat showed himself to be very clever, brave, so good at literature and fine hand-writing, eloquent retort that even the King and officers had to admire him. Quat is really an infant prodigy of Vietnam.