Ha Jin Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Although the locale for all of Jin’s fiction is China, the stories and novels are more than mere sociopolitical tracts about life under communist rule. The struggle of the individual seeking to establish identity, security, and self-worth in an absurd society is a theme that transcends political, cultural, and geographic borders. In some ways, much of Jin’s fiction is reminiscent of the work of the Czech writer Franz Kafka or German novelist Günter Grass. All three novelists describe the existential dilemma men and women face who live in a world in which social convention or political will alone dictates right and wrong—and one in which the standards shift constantly. Seen in this light, a novel such as The Crazed is eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), and Waiting shares affinities with the work of a similar title by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954). For Jin, the value in life is made by those who live it, and their efforts to struggle against a closed system of arbitrary rules gives his characters a sense of dignity. Jin suggests that life is inherently tragic; it may have its comic moments, but inevitably his protagonists must face the fact that their efforts to make their lives meaningful can be of value only to themselves. As Jin himself has acknowledged, such writing makes readers uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he asserts that this is the only form of literature worth writing.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ha Jin was born Xuefei Jin in Liaoning Province in northeast China. The son of a career military officer, he was sent to school at age seven but found himself out of class, along with millions of other young Chinese, when all schools closed in 1966 as a result of the Cultural Revolution. With little to do, Jin spent his time idling with other youth; for a time he participated in the Little Red Guards, a communist youth organization. In 1969, he lied about his age and joined the army, serving for a time in the northeast on the border between China and the Soviet Union. After obtaining a discharge from the army in 1975, Jin went to work for the telegraph company. In 1977, when the schools reopened, he took the university entrance exams and began his studies, receiving his B.A. degree from Heilongjiang University (1981) and M.A. from Shandong University (1984), both in English.

In 1985, with the blessing of the Chinese government, Jin enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Originally he intended to complete a dissertation focusing on American literature, then return to teach in China. Although he had a scholarship for only one year, he remained at Brandeis after 1986, supporting himself by taking on odd jobs. At the same time, he embarked on a new pastime: creative writing. He found that writing in English provided good practice in using the language and at the same time afforded him a freedom of expression not available to those...

(The entire section is 607 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Jinzhou, Liaoning Province, in northeastern China in 1956, Ha Jin—a pen name that Xuefei Jin adopted for easier pronunciation—was the first Chinese-born American writer to win both the National Book Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award. However, Jin became an English-language writer almost by happenstance. His father was an army officer. Therefore, when facing the choices between going to work in the countryside and joining the People’s Liberation Army at age fourteen, he choose the latter, patrolling the border between Northern China and the Soviet Union for six years. After leaving the army, he worked as a railroad telegrapher in Harbin, the capital of Helongjian Province from 1975 to 1977 and taught himself English by listening to the radio. In 1988, he went to Helongjiang University, also in Harbin, a city he loved so much that he used the first character of it, Ha, in his pen name. He graduated with a B.A. degree in English in 1982. Then he moved with his father, who had just retired from the army, to their home province of Shangdong.{$S[A]Jin, Xuefei;Jin, Ha}

Two years later, Jin received his M.A. in American literature from Shandong University; there he was taught by visiting American Fulbright scholars and was exposed for the first time to the National Book Award-winning novels of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. While Jin enjoyed reading these works, he never imagined he would one day follow in their authors’ footsteps. He wanted to be a scholar and a translator.

Shortly after his marriage to a young mathematician, Lisha Bian, Jin was given the opportunity to pursue a scholarship overseas. In 1985 he went to the United States to begin doctoral...

(The entire section is 696 words.)