Jin, Ha

▪ 2001

      Chinese American writer Ha Jin won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction in 2000 for his novel Waiting. When, a year earlier, the novel had won the 1999 National Book Award, critics noted that in certain respects the choice was an unusual one. Jin's first language was not English, and Waiting was his first full-length novel. Further, it was a story not about assimilation into American culture but rather about the difficulties of life in Chinese society. Yet the book was popular with both critics and readers, who found Jin's plain, unadorned prose an effective vehicle for his story. And like all of his fiction, the novel dealt with basic human concerns in a way reminiscent of writers such as Anton Chekhov and Nikolay Gogol, whom Jin cited as influences.

      Xuefei Jin (he used Ha Jin as a pen name) was born on Feb. 21, 1956, in Jinzhou, Liaoning province. His father was a member of the army, and the son had only a brief, incomplete education before the schools closed in 1966 at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. At age 14 Jin joined the army and was sent to the northern border with the Soviet Union. After the army he worked as a railway telegraph operator and began to learn English by listening to the radio. When the schools reopened, he attended Heilongjiang University, Harbin, from which he graduated in 1981 with a degree in English. Jin earned a master's degree in American literature from Shandong University, Qingdao, in 1984, and the following year he entered Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass. He received a doctorate in 1992 and became a professor of creative writing at Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., in 1993. He did all of his writing in the United States and all in English, in which he felt that he had found his voice.

      Before he published fiction, Jin published poems, which he collected in two volumes, Between Silences (1990) and Facing Shadows (1996). His volume of army stories, Ocean of Words (1996), received the PEN/Hemingway Award in 1997, and his second book of stories, Under the Red Flag (1997), which told of life during the Cultural Revolution, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Individual stories also took a number of other prizes. The novella In the Pond, which was published in 1998, depicted factory life in a small Chinese town through the sometimes comical tug-of-war between a worker and party officials. In Waiting a doctor who took a traditional wife but then fell in love with a nurse was forced to wait the prescribed 18 years before he could obtain a divorce. As with much of Jin's fiction, the novel illustrated the tension between the individual and the family, the modern and the traditional, and feeling and duty.

Robert Rauch

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Universalium. 2010.

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