Ha Jin is a well respected Chinese-American writer who has only ever written in English, although he spent his formative years in China. He has been the recipient of several prestigious awards for his writing about his homeland.
Ha Jin was born Jin Xuefei, on the 21st of February 1956 in the Liaoning province in northern China. He grew up in the rural province and at the age of fourteen joined the People's Liberation Army as a volunteer, where he was based at the north eastern border between China and the former USSR.
During Jin's third year in the army, he began to teach himself middle school and high school courses. He left the army at the age of nineteen to attend college. However, due to the cultural revolution, which was still occurring, all colleges were closed.
Jin took a job as a railway telegrapher in Jiamusi in the north east of China, and dedicated himself to learning English, expressing the desire to "someday to read Friedrich Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 in the English original".
In 1977, when Jin was 21, the colleges reopened. Jin sat the entrance exam and was given a place at Heilongjiang University in Harbin where he was assigned to study his last choice for a major: English. Jin received his Bachelor of Arts in 1981 and went on to take a Masters in American Literature at Shandong University in 1984. In 1985 he went to the United States to take a PHD in English at Brandeis University, and also studied fiction writing at Boston University. During his PHD he worked as a busboy in a Chinese Restaurant and a night watchman in a factory.
At the time of the 1989 Tianamen Square massacre, Ha Jin was still in the United States. He decided that he couldn't return to China to teach or write as was his original intention, and remained in the United States after the completion of his PHD in 1993. Having no following as an author in Chinese he made the decision to write solely in English, and he took the easier pen name of Ha Jin. He currently teaches at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ha Jin has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction, the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Asian American Literary Award. He has also been a finalist in the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Award and for the Pulitzer Prize, and has appeared in numerous anthologies including Best American Short Story anthologies and Pushcart Prize anthologies.