Phan Khôi was born to an elite family. His father was "Phó Bảng" Phan Trân (1826-1935) who was the son of Judge Phan Nhu. His mother was Hoàng Thị Lệ (1826-1882) who was the daughter of Governor Hoang Dieu.
Phan Khôi learned Chinese characters from a young age and was very well read. He read many progressive writings and developed a belief in civil rights and a new society.
In 1906, he joined the Progressive Movement (Duy Tân) led by Phan Chu Trinh (1872-1926), Huynh Thuc Khang (1876-1947) and Tran Quy Cap (1870-1906). Phan Khôi moved to Hanoi to learn French and Quốc ngữ (Vietnamese written in the Latin alphabets).
Then in 1908 the French cracked down on Progressive Movement, they captured all members, executed the leaders and imprisoned others. Phan Khôi was sent back to prison in Điện Bàn.
In 1909, being pardoned by the French, he went to Huê and studied at the Pellerin School (1909-1911).
1911 his father Phan Tran passed away. Phan Khoi came home for the funeral and stayed at his village, opened his own school and started teaching.
1913, Phan Khoi married the daughter of Lương Thúc Ký (1873-1947). Lương Thúc Ký was a teacher at Dục Anh school at Phan Thiêt. Dục Anh school was founded by Mr. Nguyễn Trọng Lợi, who also was a member of the Progressive Movement.
Phan Khôi wrote under the pen name Chương Dân, and was very well known for his new, revolutionary and controversial ideas.
He contributed to Đăng Cổ Tùng Báo (1907) of Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục, Nam Phong (1918) founded by Phạm Quỳnh, Lục Tỉnh Tân Văn, Hà Nội Thực Nghiệp Dân Báo (1920), Hữu Thanh (1921), Đông Pháp Thời Báo (1923), Trung Lập Báo (1924), Thần Chung (1929)
Phan Khoi was the editor of Phụ Nữ Tân Văn (1929), Phụ Nữ Thời Đàm (1932), Tràng An (1934).
In 1956, Phan Khoi led the Nhân Văn - Giai Phẩm movement in Hà Nội, and he served as editor in chief as well as the publisher of the Nhân Văn (1956). He also contributed to the Giai Phẩm periodical and Văn, a weekly publication.
Some leading Vietnamese intellectuals in the north of the country, like Nguyen Huu Dang and Tran Duc Thao, joined Phan Khoi to express their ideals in the Nhân Văn - Giai Phẩm Movement, demanding freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and democracy. They accused the Vietnamese Communist Party of violating the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
In December 1956, the Vietnamese Communist Party forced the papers to close. By 1958,after indecision about what to do about the participants in this dissent, it had arrested numerous participants in the Nhan Van Giai Pham affair, imprisoned some of them, forced some into public self-criticism, and put others on trial. This was reported to the world as "The Nhân Văn Affair" by Hoàng Văn Chí.
Since this event till the last day of his life, Phan Khôi was kept prisoner at home by the Communist Party, his ideas and writings were oppressed.
Phan Khôi died suddenly January 16, 1959 at home in Hà Nội.
1936 - Chương Dân thi thoại [Poems of Chương Dân]
1939 - Trở vỏ lửa ra
1955 - Việt ngữ nghiên cứu [Studies about Vietnamese language]
1932 - Tình già [Old Love - Poem written in new format]
1918 - Bàn về tế giao [Remarks about diplomacy]
Ngẫu cảm (thơ chữ Hán) [Inspiration - poem written in Chinese characters]
Viếng mộ ông Lê Chất [Visiting the grave of Lê Chất - poem in Chinese characters]
Ông Năm chuột (truyện ngắn) [Mr. Năm Chuột - short story]
He provided the best spirit to a debate in Bàn thêm về “bút chiến”, which until today is still the foremost valuable lesson the Vietnameses ought to learn.
In his writing: Đàn bà với quốc sự, Phan Khôi clearly offered Vietnamese ladies an honor place in society within the setting of Vietnamese culture.
His poem "Old Love" was the first poem written in a new format, opening doors for many young poets to surpass him in a short time.
However, he also was very interested in researching the roots of Vietnamese heritage, especially Vietnamese spoken language, which had long been ignored and looked down upon by the elite class in Vietnam. His research Phan Khôi: Việt ngữ nghiên cứu was a well of knowledge for young Vietnamese to follow.
One generation before Hoàng Văn Chí, one generation after Phan Chu Trinh, Phan Khôi represented a class of Vietnamese intellectuals caught between colonialism, nationalism,communism. Phan Khôi's progressive spirit and his life-long effort to raise the Vietnamese people's awareness of human rights, civil rights, and good education were suppressed by the Communist Party with The Nhân Văn Affair since 1956 are being revived in the 2000s by the younger generation of Vietnam.
1. Phan Khoi -- Encyclopaedia Britannica
2. Nguyễn Quý Ðại - Nhà văn PHAN KHÔI và VỤ ÁN NHÂN VĂN - The Vietnamese Historical and Cultural Performing Arts Foundation: http://www.hungsuviet.org/lichsu/nha_van_phan_khoi.htm