Writer of Color: Ha Jin

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Photo of POC writer Ha Jin from The Boston Globe

Quick Facts on POC Writer Ha Jin

  • Born February 21, 1956
  • True name is Xuefei Jin
  • Writes short stories, fiction and poetry
  • Graduated from Boston University’s MFA program
  • Currently teaches at Boston University’s MFA program

Biography of POC Writer Ha Jin

Ha Jin grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. This was during Mao Ze Dong’s reign, when he shut down schools so the people could focus on Communist ideas full-time.  So Jin got a job, and learned English while listening to the radio as he worked as a railroad telegraph operator.

He graduated from the University of Harbin (northeastern China) in 1981 with a degree in English. In 1984, he earned his master’s degree at Shandong University in Qingdao in American Literature. He continued his studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1992.

Instead of returning home, where the Tiananmen Square demonstrations took place, he opted to study Creative Writing at Boston University, receiving his MFA in 1994.

He currently teaches at Boston University’s MFA Creative Writing program.

For a more detailed biography, please click here 

Before You Read POC Writer Ha Jin

Ha Jin writes about the immigrant experience, about displacement and identity. Many of his stories are set in China.

China

China is officially recognized as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), an acronym you might see here and there if you aren’t already familiar with it. It is the home to more than 1 billion people.

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The capital of China is Beijing, and the official language is Standard Chinese, also known as Modern Standard Mandarin. The government operates as a one-party socialist republic with a President (or General Secretary.)

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Because the nation itself is so vast, it’s difficult to characterize China as a whole. In addition, China has a seriously long history that dates back to 2100 BCE. So, if you want to read up on the entirety of Chinese history in (moderate) brevity, check out this Wikipedia page.

Modern Chinese History

Republic of China, AKA the ROC (1912 to 1949)

The last dynasty of China was the Qing Dynasty, which ended in 1912. Then, the Republic of China was installed. But in its infancy, the nation was still politically volatile. There were several different leaders who tried to lead, but they all (basically) failed. Despite the world recognizing Beijing as China’s capital, territories were still controlled by warlords.

Then:

1920s A Kuomingtang leader, Chiang Kai Shek, initiates the Northern Expedition, a succession of military and political stages that temporarily reunified China’s fragments. He moves the capital from Beijing to Nanjing.

1927 Chinese Civil War Part 1: Kuomingtang (KMT, or Nationalist Party) v. Communist Party of China (CPC). These two major political parties warred with each other on how to move forward with China’s leadership.

1936 to 1945 Chinese Civil War Part II: Second Sino-Japanese War (the impetus of WWII). Imperial Japan encroaches on Chinese territory, sparked by the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. In response, KMT and CPC aligned to confront Japan with help from the US and Soviet Union. The Second Sino-Japanese War resulted in 20 million Chinese casualties and remains the bloodiest war in modern Asia.

(In 1941, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor.)

1945 to 1949/50 Chinese Communist Revolution, AKA the War of Liberation. KMT leader Chiang Kai Shek takes the island of Taiwan while CPC leader Mao Ze Dong takes mainland China.

1958 and 1961 The Great Leap Forward. Under Mao Ze Dong’s leadership, China sought to industrialize itself. Instead, it caused the Great Chinese Famine in which over 45 million people died from starvation.

1966 to 1976 The Cultural Revolution. This was Mao Ze Dong’s attempt to unify the nation with Communist ideology, dethroning any thoughts of capitalism. The Cultural Revolution stunted China’s growth, minimizing their economy, society and political development.

(In 1971, PRC was recognized by the United Nations.)

1978 to 1989 A revolutionary by the name of Deng Xiao Ping took the lead over China, though not formally recognized as the leader. He was responsible for major economic reforms and having China participate in the global market.

However, while China looked like it was making major progress with new opportunities for some people, others were at a huge disadvantage. The changes Deng Xiao Ping made benefited elite politicians and businessmen. Young Chinese men and women found themselves fighting against inflation, exclusivity and reduced political rights.

1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. (But evidently, only those of us on the Western half of the hemisphere call it that.)

In China, this event is called the June Fourth Incident, the 89 Democracy Movement, or the Tiananmen Square Protests.

Thousands of young people gathered to protest nepotism and elitism. They instead demanded democracy, and the freedom of speech and press. They were met with armored tanks and armed troops. Up to 10,000 people were arrested for demonstrating.

1990s New leaders emerged. For the next decade, conditions improved and about 150 million peasants climbed out of poverty.

Ha Jin’s Writing

Believe it or not, Ha Jin’s first language is Chinese, not English.

Ha Jin’s writing is modest and simple, not from lack of style of vocabulary. He writes in such a way that makes you pay attention even to the smallest, plainest words–and then, you’re left thinking, how the hell did he just do that?

Check out his interview with Asymptote Journal here.

And his talk with Asia Society, here. 

Quotes from POC Writer Ha Jin

“Writing is not a great profession as a lot of writers proclaim. I write because this is something I can do. Another thing—very often I think a lot of writers write because they have failed to do other things. How many writers can’t drive? A lot. They’re not practical. They are not capable in everyday life.”

“I work hard, I work very hard. All the books at least 30 revisions.”

“No, It’s hard to uproot yourself and really become yourself in another soil, but it’s also an opportunity, another kind of growth.”

“The more you move, the stronger you’ll grow, not like a tree that can be killed if you uproot it.”

 “Life is a journey, and you can’t carry everything with you. Only the usable baggage.”  

Works by POC Writer Ha Jin

Note: Can we all agree that Ha Jin is a machine? The man pumps out a book almost every year or two.

1996 Ocean of Words (short stories)

1997 Under the Red Flag (short stories)

1998 In the Pond

1999 Waiting

2000 The Bridegroom (short stories)

2002 The Crazed

2004 War Trash

2007 A Free Life

2009 A Good Fall (short stories)

2011 Nanjing Requiem

2014 A Map of Betrayal

2016 The Boat Rocker

 

 

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