Ha Jin

Portrait Ha Jin
© Hartwig Klappert

The son of an officer, Ha Jin was born Jin Xuefei in the northern Chinese town of Jinzhou in 1956. At the age of 14 during the Cultural Revolution, he joined the People’s Liberation Army and served along the Chinese-Soviet border. When the universities were re-opened in 1977, he studied English and subsequently American Literature. In 1985, he went to Brandeis University on a scholarship to gain his doctorate. He finished the manuscript of his first book of poems, »Between Silences« (1990), three years later. After the bloody suppression of student protests on the Square of Heavenly Peace in Beijing in 1989, he remained in the USA and attended the Creative Writing Program at Boston University. Following a period as a Lecturer at Emory University in Atlanta, Ha Jin is currently Professor for English and Creative Writing at Boston University. He has been a US citizen since 1997.

Along with four volumes of poetry, Jin has published short stories and seven novels, for which he was awarded several of America’s most significant prizes. Like Nabokov and Conrad, he chose to write in English, his second language, which he employs with a clear and reserved style. »I want to be an American author because the immigrant experience has always been a distinctive part of American culture.« But China long remained the setting of Jin’s stories, which show normal people in their day-to-day lives and explore how individuality is suppressed by social norms and political constraints. His first novel, »In the Pond« (1998) is a satire that recounts the story of a Chinese factory worker who fights against the injustices of his superiors until he is promoted, after which he finally conforms. »Waiting« (1999), the novel that earned Jin international renown, is a story set in 1960s China about a love that shatters under the burden of traditions. »A Free Life« (2007) has an American setting for the first time and focuses on the experiences of a Chinese immigrant. In his most recent, thoroughly researched novel »Nanking Requiem« (2011), Ha Jin tells the story of the American missionary Wilhelminde »Minnie« Vautrin, who saved the lives of thousands in Nanking during the Japanese army’s massacre of the Chinese civilian population in 1937. The protagonist of his most recent novel, »A Map of Betrayal« (2014), is a Chinese spy who, as a translator in the United States, gains access to the secret intelligence service. His daughter Lilian travels to China to reconstruct his life. Parallels to Jin’s own biography as an immigrant are obvious.

Ha Jin’s numerous awards include the PEN / Hemingway Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN / Faulkner Award.