Ha Jin (b. 1956)
Ha Jin is a widely acclaimed
Since that first book, Jin has produced numerous other works, including the poetry volumes Facing Shadows (1996) and Wreckage (2001), and the short-story collections Ocean of Words: Army Stories (1996), Under the Red Flag (1997), and The Bridegroom (2001). Jin has also published the novels In the Pond (1998), Waiting (1999), The Crazed (2002), War Trash (2004), and A Free Life (2007), his first novel set in the United States.
Early Career and Poetry
Ha Jin is the pen name of Xuefei Jin, born February 21, 1956, in China's Liaoning Province. He grew up during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, served in the army, and completed bachelor's and master's degrees in his home country before coming to the United States in 1985 to pursue his doctorate in English at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, which roughly coincided with the completion of his Ph.D., convinced Jin not to return to China; he soon began writing in English and searching for an academic job in the United States. In 1993 Jin joined the creative writing faculty at Emory University in Atlanta as an assistant professor of poetry. After spending a decade at Emory, Jin returned as a full professor to the creative writing program at Boston University, where he had previously studied writing.
In 1990 Jin, who had only recently begun writing in English, published his first volume of poetry. This effort, Between Silences, and his two subsequent books of poetry, Facing Shadows and Wreckage, offer a sweeping panorama of Chinese history, from the excesses of the emperors to the public enthusiasm and private suffering attending the Cultural Revolution. Often narrative in form, Jin's poems likewise offer a glimpse into the family background and cultural antecedents that color his own writing: his verses trace a path from his home province in China to Georgia and beyond.
Though he was hired by Emory as a professor of poetry, Jin became well known for his fiction. His first story
Under the Red Flag, Jin's second collection, is perhaps even more brutal in the truths it reveals about China and human nature. The first story in the volume, "In Broad Daylight," which earned a Pushcart Prize, chronicles the public punishment of a married woman who has performed sexual acts for money. The book garnered the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, which is named for Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor and administered by the University of Georgia Press.
In the title story of The Bridegroom, Jin writes about a homosexual man who, having taken a homely bride as a
Jin's first novel, In the Pond, is a comic tale about a low-ranking worker at a Chinese fertilizer plant who publishes satiric cartoons about the Communist Party and company officials who have passed him over for a housing upgrade.
The Crazed, Jin's third novel, concerns a graduate student's academic coming-of-age at the bedside of his mentor and future father-in-law, an esteemed professor whose "crazed" rants while recovering from a stroke reveal far more about himself and the oppressive life of a Chinese academician than the professor intends.
Jin's fourth novel, War Trash, is the first-person account of a Chinese army officer's struggle to survive a prisoner-of-war camp after he is captured by Americans during the Korean War (1951-53). A winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, War Trash was considered by many critics at the time to be Jin's most ambitious and incendiary novel. While the central character is purely fictional, the mistreatment of the Korean prisoners at the hands of their captors is, according to Jin, a historical reality. The author's representation of these events draws upon his own experience in the Chinese army and his memory that "most of the soldiers were afraid of captivity more than death."
A Free Life tells the story of an immigrant family who flees China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and struggles to adjust to American life. The novel is partially set in Atlanta.
In December 2006 The First Emperor, an opera cowritten by Jin and Tan Dun and composed by Dun, opened at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In 2008 Jin published a series of lectures, entitled The Writer as Migrant, which was originally delivered at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Ha Jin continues to write and teach at Boston University. He is married to Lisha Bian, and they have one son, Wen.
Dwight Garner, "Ha Jin's Cultural Revolution," New York Times Magazine, February 6, 2000.
Paula E. Geyh, "Ha Jin," in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 244 , American Short-Story Writers since World War II, 4th ser., ed. Patrick Meanor and Joseph McNicholas (Detroit: Gale, 2001).
Paula E. Geyh, "An Interview with Ha Jin," Boulevard 51 (2002): 127-40.
Jocelyn Lieu, "Beating the Odds," Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1996.
Sandra S. Hughes, University of Georgia
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