Ha Jin

Ha Jin traveled from China to the US to get a Ph.D. in English. Sounds like a fun adventure, right? Before he could return home, however, he watched the Tiananmen Square Massacre broadcast on TV. Suddenly, Ha Jin didn’t feel safe going home. He decided to stay in the US and has now become a beloved Chinese-American writer, covering topics about communist China and being a Chinese immigrant in the US. 

Ha Jin Ha Jin

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Contents
Table of contents

    Ha Jin Biography: Early Life and Studies

    Ha Jin was born Xuefei Jin on February 21, 1956, in Liaoning, China. Growing up, Jin’s father was in the Chinese military. Ha Jin himself joined the Chinese army when he was a teenager. He remained in the army until he was nineteen. At that time, he was able to enroll at Heilongjiang University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. He then attended Shandong University and completed a master’s program in American Literature.

    He wanted to get a Ph.D. in English and attended Brandeis University in the US. Ha Jin originally planned to return to China after finishing his studies. However, while in the US, he saw the Tiananmen Square massacre on TV. He felt that the Chinese government at the time was too oppressive, and he decided to stay and live in the United States.

    Tiananmen Square Massacre: An incident in 1989 where Chinese students holding political protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, were massacred by the Chinese military.

    Ha Jin, a city in Liaoning China, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Ha Jin's literary career draws inspiration from his upbringing in China.

    Ha Jin Career

    Ha Jin’s first book of English poetry, Between Silences, was published in 1990—before he even finished his studies. He continued to publish poetry in the following years, and in 1998 Ha Jin’s first novel, In The Pond, was released. Perhaps his most famous work, the novel Waiting, came in 1999. Jin’s works have been well-received, and he is now considered one of the most important voices in Chinese-American literature.

    The asteroid “Hajin” is named after author Ha Jin!

    Though his first language is Chinese, Ha Jin writes most of his works in English. In Jin's opinion, this preserves the text's integrity, rather than having his original words translated for English readers in the US. Most of Ha Jin’s works discuss communist China and the experience of being an immigrant. Several of his books are set in fictional Muji City, China.

    Ha Jin has won several awards for his writing, including:

    • Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction (1996)
    • Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award (1997)
    • National Book Award (1999)
    • PEN Award (2000)
    • Asian Fellowship (2000–2002)
    • Townsend Prize for Fiction (2002)
    • PEN Award (2005)
    • Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006)

    Ha Jin Books

    Author Ha Jin has written and published many books in his writing career. His books include novels, nonfiction, and short story collections in addition to his poetry.

    Jin used the pen name “Ha” on all his books. The name is inspired by his favorite city: Harbin, China.

    Novels

    Ha Jin has also written nine novels, his novels include in the Pond, waiting and a free life.

    In the Pond (1998)

    Set in communist China, In the Pond follows Shao Bin, who works in a fertilizer factory and struggles to support his family. He wants to move them into a nicer apartment but finds that his leaders are corrupt. Unable to earn what he needs, Shao Bin fights back. However, this prompts the leaders to strike back—hard.

    Ha Jin, Mao Communist Mausoleum, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Many of Ha Jin's works are set in Communist China and address issues such as workers' rights.

    Waiting (1999)

    Waiting is a novel set in communist China that tells the story of a man named Lin Kong who loves a nurse at the hospital he works at. However, he is already married to another woman. He must wait nearly two decades before he can get a divorce to be with the woman he loves.

    A Free Life (2007)

    In A Free Life, Ha Jin tells the story of Nan Wu and his family as they adjust to life in the US after immigrating from China. Despite finding freedom from the government they fled, Nan Wu feels trapped again—this time by the limitations and obligations he faces as the head of an immigrant family.

    A Free Life is the first book that Ha Jin wrote that was set largely in the US. It gives the reader a chance to look at America through the eyes of an immigrant.

    Ha Jin's other novels are The Crazed (2002), War Trash (2004), Nanjing Requiem (2011), A Map of Betrayal (2014), The Boat Rocker (2016), and A Song Everlasting (2021).

    Nonfiction Books

    Below are some non-fiction books written by Ha Jin

    The Writer as Migrant (2008)

    The Writer as Migrant was Ha Jin’s first nonfiction book. It contains three essays that discuss the experiences and writings of authors—including Ha Jin himself—who emigrate from their homeland.

    The Banished Immortal (2019)

    The Banished Immortal is a biography of Li Bai, who lived from 701-762 in China. The poetry he created is now beloved both for its beauty and the glimpse it gives into the Daoist thought of the time.

    Short Story Collections

    Ha Jin has also written four short story collections. These are Ocean of Words (1996), Under the Red Flag (1997), The Bridegroom (2000), and A Good Fall (2009).

    Ha Jin Poems

    In addition to his novels, short stories, and nonfiction works, Ha Jin has written many poems. They are published in four poetry collections: Between Silences (1990), Facing Shadows (1996), Wreckage (2001), and A Distant Center (2018).

    Ha Jin Quotes

    The following quote is from Ha Jin’s novel A Free Life. The book deals with the difficulties Chinese immigrants face in the US. This quote highlights that despite their struggles, they will keep moving forward.

    You said, ‘Life is a tragedy, but its meaning lies in how we face the tragedy.” (A Free Life, ch 17)

    The quote below emphasizes the benefits that can come from moving and experiencing change. In A Free Life, the protagonists face huge changes when they move from China to the US. Ha Jin himself faced such challenges, and this quote might reflect how his own move impacted him.

    The more you move, the stronger you’ll grow, not like a tree that can be killed if you uproot it.” (A Free Life, ch 4)

    The following quote from the novel Waiting reveals a focus on the idea of moral character early in the book. The main character is a generally good man but also has bad attributes that he wrestles with.

    “I know your type. You’re always afraid that people will call you a bad man. You strive to have a good heart. But what is a heart? Just a chunk of flesh that a dog can eat. Your problem originates in your own character, and you must first change yourself.” (Waiting, ch 1)

    Ha Jin - Key takeaways

    • Ha Jin is a Chinese-American poet and author.
    • He was born in Liaoning, China, in 1956 but decided to live in the US after the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
    • Jin has published poetry, novels, and nonfiction works.
    • One of his most famous books is the novel Waiting.
    • Ha Jin’s novels are typically about living in communist China or as an immigrant from China.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Ha Jin

    What is Ha Jin known for?

    Ha Jin is known for both his poetry and his novels. He has written many award-winning books, many of which are set in China. 

    Does Ha Jin write in English?

    Ha Jin writes in English, though some of his early poetry was written in Chinese. 

    Who is Ha Jin?

    Ha Jin is a Chinese-American writer known for both his poetry and his novels. His works are inspired by his Chinese upbringing.

    Where is Ha Jin from?

    Ha Jin was born in Liaoning, China. He currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts. 

    What is Ha Jin's last name?

    Ha Jin's last name is Jin. The first name Ha is a pen name, though; his real first name is Xuefei. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: Ha Jin was in the military as a teenager.

    Where did Ha Jin attend university for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees?

    What language does Ha Jin primarily write in?

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