Jin, Xuefei 1956-
JIN, Xuefei 1956-
PERSONAL: Born February 21, 1956, in Liaoning, China; son of Danlin (an officer) and Yuanfen (a worker; maiden name, Zhao) Jin; married Lisah Bian, July 6, 1982; children: Wen. Education: Heilongjian g University, B.A., 1981; Shangdong University, M.A., 1984; Brandeis University, Ph.D., 1992.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, Callaway Memorial Center, 302 North Callaway, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322; fax: 404-727-2605. Agent—Christina Ward, P.O. Box 515, North Scituate, MA 02060.
CAREER: Emory University, Atlanta, GA, assistant professor of creative writing, 1993-2002; Boston University, 2002—. Military service: Chinese People's Army, 1987-95.
AWARDS, HONORS: Three Pushcart Prizes for fiction; prize from Kenyon Review; Agni Best Fiction Prize; PEN Hemingway Award for first fiction, 1998, for Ocean of Words; Flannery O'Connor Award, 1998, and 34th Georgia Author of the Year Awards for Under the Red Flag; National Book Award, 1999, and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, 2000, both for Waiting; Townsend Prize for Fiction for The Bridegroom.
under name ha jin
Between Silences: A Voice from China (poems), University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.
Facing Shadows (poems), Hanging Loose Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1996.
Ocean of Words: Army Stories, Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA), 1996, Vintage (New York, NY), 1998.
Under the Red Flag (stories), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1997, Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
In the Pond (novel), Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
Waiting (novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1999.
Quiet Desperation (stories), Pantheon (New York, NY), 2000.
The Bridegroom (stories), Pantheon (New York, NY), 2000.
Wreckage (poetry), Hanging Loose (Brooklyn, NY), 2001.
The Crazed, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2002.
War Trash, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2004.
ADAPTATIONS: Waiting has been adapted by Brilliance for audiotape and is being produced as a film.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Man to Be: Country Stories, short fiction.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1986 thirty-year-old Xuefei Jin, who writes under the name Ha Jin, came to the U.S. on a student visa from his native China to begin working on a Ph.D. in English at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His dissertation was on high Modernist poets Pound, Eliot, Auden, and Yeats because, as he told Dave Weich of Powell's City of Books, "Those four have poems which are related to Chinese texts and poems that reference the culture. My dissertation was aimed at a Chinese job market. I planned to return to China." Jin and his wife decided to stay in the U.S. after seeing what happened at Tiananmen Square on television. Before taking his degree in 1992, Jin had already published his first book of poems in English, Between Silences. The next year he began teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and another book of poetry, Facing Shadows, appeared a few years later in 1996. As Weich pointed out, it wasn't an easy beginning: "Taking odd jobs (a night watchman, a busboy) until eventually his publishing success convinced Emory University to hire him to teach and write, Jin was arguably one of the most prolific literary writers of the nineties." In the next three years Jin published two story collections and two novels, all written in English, all set in the People's Republic of China. Jin's work has received nearly universal acclaim from American critics and garnered numerous awards.
Jin's second collection of stories, Under the Red Flag, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. The book is set in a rural town, Dismount Fort, during the Cultural Revolution that swept across China in 1966. This was a time when fanatical beliefs gained sway and those who did not embrace them were often persecuted. In what Paul Gray of Time singled out as the best story in the book, "Winds and Clouds over a Funeral," a communist official is torn between conflicting loyalties. His mother's last request upon her death bed was that she not be cremated. However, it is the official policy of the Communist Party that all dead bodies should be cremated in order to conserve arable land. In another story, the Communist Party has arrested a woman accused of being a whore and are planning a public humiliation and punishment for her. A young boy, the narrator of the story, looks forward to the event. In another, a man castrates himself to gain admission to the Communist Party. Gray noted: "Ha Jin is not a preachy author. He offers his characters choices that are incompatible and potentially destructive and then dispassionately records what they do next." Frank Caso of Booklist found Under the Red Flag to be a "powerful" collection, but also remarked "there is … an undisguised cynicism, in … many of the … tales, that the truth must first be shaped to a political purpose." A Publishers Weekly reviewer though, stating of Jin that "sometimes his allegories are too simple," maintained that the stories are used by Jin "to explore larger themes about human relationships and the effect of government on individual lives."
Jin's first novel, In the Pond, is the tale of a talented artist, Shao Bin, who must spend his time working at a fertilizer plant to support his family. After being assigned inferior housing, Bin protests by drawing a series of cartoons that criticize his supervisors at work, the villains of the story. After a series of conflicts with the supervisors, spurred on by more cartoons, Bin eventually receives a promotion to the propaganda office. A writer reviewing In the Pond for Publishers Weekly found that Jin "offers a wise and funny first novel that gathers meticulously observed images into a seething yet restrained tale of social injustice in modern China." The reviewer also applauded the complexity of the book's characters, such as the supervisors, and concluded by stating that the novel goes beyond its setting of Communist China to "engagingly illustrat[e] a universal conundrum."
A National Book and PEN/Faulkner Award winner, Waiting, which Jin told Weich was based on a true story, generated considerable critical attention. "[A] deliciously comic novel … [told] … in an impeccably deadpan manner," exclaimed Gray, again writing in Time. One Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed Waiting "quiet but absorbing … powerful," while another remarked that besides its "affecting love story," Waiting "presents a trenchant picture of Chinese life under communism." According to Shirley N. Quan of Library Journal: "This touching story about love, honor, duty, and family speaks feelingly to readers on matters of the heart." The plot of Waiting centers on three individuals: Lin, a medical student who later becomes a doctor; Shuyu, the woman his ailing parents force him to marry so they will have someone to care for them; and Manna Wu, a nurse with whom Lin falls in love. According to communist law, a couple must be separated for eighteen years before they can legally divorce. The novel covers twenty years, including the eighteen during which Lin and Manna maintain their relationship but decide to wait until they can marry before they will consummate it. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the book for Entertainment Weekly, Megan Harlan stated: "Jin overexplains the story's background. But the lengthy finale … resounds with elegant irony." Francine Prose of the New York Times Book Review noted: "Character is fate, or at least some part of fate, and Ha Jin's achievement is to reveal the ways in which character and society conspire."
Since the success of Waiting, Jin has produced two volumes of short stories, one of poetry, and another novel, The Crazed. Of the 2002 novel, Commonweal's Valerie Sayers found, "In an age when so many critics have declared the death of literary realism, Ha Jin's depiction of real absurdity and absurd reality is a good argument against realism's premature burial." Neil Freudenberger in the New Yorker commented, "Ha Jin explores an intimate subject with a surgeon's combination of detachment and depth." Sayers added, "The Crazed … is also a compelling read, more directly political than Waiting, more focused on an inevitable plot march that will end in Tiananmen Square." The narrator is a young man, Jian Wan, studying for his Ph.D. exams and waiting to marry the daughter of his professor, Dr. Yang. The professor, however, suffers a stroke and while Jian and another student wait in the hospital for his wife to arrive home from a trip to Tibet, Yang raves and sings in hallucinations that take him wandering back to days of persecution during the Cultural Revolution, to sexual liaisons, and to his early ambitions. He also talks about spiritual matters. As Freudenberger noted, "Professor Yang slowly goes mad—conducting imaginary conversations, spilling his own secrets, and giving his student an education he's not sure he wants." Sayers considered "many of the professor's monologues and spoken dreams, which are designed to unveil his biography as well as to move the plot along … ridiculously contrived in dramatic terms, yet their language is so direct that they remain strangely compelling." Yang's words move Jian to abandon his studies and join the students marching on Tiananmen Square. "The novel's climax is utterly realistic and utterly involving—its movement out of the sickroom and into the streets of Beijing provides just the right change of perception and scale," Sayers concluded.
The Spectator's Jonathan Mirsky, however, found the novel plodding. He experienced Yang's ranting and singing, the slow unfolding of Jian's understanding through the confusing and hazy words of his professor as frustrating: "None of this is clear and after a while one ceases to care. The sordid dreariness, petty politicking and general hopelessness of Chinese academic life are well shown, but without a story it palls." Patrick Ness in the London Daily Telegraph maintained, "For these potentially incendiary materials, Ha Jin has adopted a curiously grey, meditative style. The pace is slow, and the prose tends toward the obvious ('I felt confused and upset'), draining colour and drama from the story." Mark Schechner of the Buffalo News suggested that Jin, in "the least subtle" of his books, may be using the "hoariest cliche of socialist writing, the general strike, and use it against the keepers of socialist myth. Only instead of the people triumphant, we have the carnage of Tiananmen and a baffled hero." But many critics, while they also had difficulty with linguistic and timing aspects of the work, held that the "hyperrealism" and attention to detail that Jin employed, together with the interest of the story and the movement to action at the end of the novel combined to create another compelling work. As Sarah A. Smith wrote in the Guardian, "At first glance Ha Jin appears to have lost some of his lightness of touch. There is a depressing, communism-by-numbers feel about the way he drops background detail into the plot," but, she continued, "Ha Jin's talent is narrative, however, and when he has dispensed with scene-setting The Crazed becomes a compelling book." She concluded, "If this novel fails to live up to the promise of its predecessor, it is perhaps because it falls prey to the problem that faces much diaspora literature—the need to explain the motherland, rather than just to write. But this shouldn't overshadow what Ha Jin has achieved in his tragi-comic portrayal of Yang and the naive Jian. This novelist has a fine sense of the human scale of history and an eye for the absurd."
Irene Wanner of the Seattle Times credited the success of Jin's work to its "skill, compassion and enlightening aspects." Gray felt Jin's success is in part due to the "accident of his birth." Having been born in another country, Gray explained, Jin was "protected from the homogenizing and potentially trivializing influences that afflict so many U.S.-born aspiring authors." However, Gray concluded that although "exotic subject matter" has helped Jin's career, his "narrative talent proves victorious."
Jin once told CA: "Because I failed to do something else, writing in English became my means of survival, of spending or wasting my life, of retrieving losses, mine and those of others. Because my life has been a constant struggle, I feel close in my heart to the great Russian masters, including Chekhov, Gogol, and Babel. As for poetry, some ancient Chinese influences are Tu Fu, Li Po, and Po Chu-I.
"Since I teach full time, my writing process has been adapted to my teaching. When I have a large piece of time, I write drafts of stories, or a draft of a novel, which I revise and edit when I teach. Each draft is revised thirty times before it is finished.
"If I am inspired, it is from within. Very often I feel that the stories have been inside me for a long time, and that I am no more than an instrument for their manifestation. As for the subject matter, I guess we are compelled to write about what has hurt us most."
Asked by Weich whether he would eventually write about the immigrant experience, Jin answered, "I haven't returned to China since I've been here. China is distant. I don't know what contemporary Chinese life is like now. I follow the news, but I don't have the mature sensation—I can't hear the noise, I can't smell the place. I'm not attached to it anymore. What's meaningful to me is the immigrant experience, the American life." The most important work of immigrant literature for him was Nabokov's Pnin, which, as he said, "deals with the question of language, and I think that's at the core of the immigrant experience: how to learn the language—or give up learning the language!—but without the absolute mastery of the language, which is impossible for an immigrant. Your life is always affected by the insufficiency."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Associated Press, October 1, 2003.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 10, 1999, p. L11; October 31, 1999, p. L15; June 23, 2000, p. E5; October 8, 2000, p. D3; October 27, 2002, p. Q4.
Australian (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), July 3, 2000, p. 013.
Booklist, November 1, 1997, Frank Caso, review of Under the Red Flag, p. 454; September 15, 2000, p. 216; April 1, 2002, p. 1314; September 1, 2002, p. 6; January 1, 2003, p. 792; March 15, 2003, p. 1338.
Boston Herald, November 17, 2002, p. 065.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), December 8, 2002, p. F6.
Capital Times (Madison, WI), January 28, 2000, p. 9A; September 28, 2001, p. 9A; January 3, 2003, p. 11A.
Chicago Tribune Books, December 24, 1996, p. 6.
Christian Science Monitor, November 2, 2000, p. 21.
Commonweal, February 14, 2003, p. 17.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia), April 1, 2000, p. W09.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 6, 2001; May 12, 2001; October 19, 2002; September 27, 2003, p. 12.
Daily Telegraph (Surry Hills, Australia), June 10, 2000, p116.
Denver Post, October 27, 2002, p. EE-02.
Entertainment Weekly, October 29, 1999, Megan Harlan, review of Waiting, p. 106; December 3, 1999, Lori Tharps and Clarissa Cruz, "Between the Lines," p. 93; November 15, 2002, p. 140.
Guardian (London, England), October 7, 2000, p. 11; November 30, 2002, p. 27; October 04, 2003.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), June 22, 2000, p. 18.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), November 20, 1999, p. 023; June 3, 2000, p. W18.
Hindu, February 2, 2003.
Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), December 5, 1999, p. 15; September 17, 2000, p. 24; December 17, 2000, p. 14; November 10, 2002, p. 18.
Independent (London, England), May 27, 2000, p. 10; October 10, 2003.
Indianapolis Star, November 28, 1999, p. D06; October 18, 2003, p. A15.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 13, 2002, p. K4516.
Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Shirley N. Quan, review of Waiting, p. 105; September 1, 2000, p. 254; June 1, 2001, p. 170; September 15, 2002, p. 91.
Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2000, p. A1; June 24, 2000, p. A4; October 3, 2000, p. E-3; October 11, 2000, p. E-3.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 14, 1999, p. 8E; June 23, 2000, p. 08; October 8, 2000, p. 06.
New Straits Times, October 1 2003, p. 6.
Newsweek International, November 29, 1999, p.73.
New Yorker, November 4, 2002.
New York Review of Books, March 23, 2000, p. 29; March 13, 2003, p. 25.
New York Times, November 19, 1999, p. B44; June 24, 2000, p. A17, B9; October 21, 2002, p. B7.
New York Times Book Review, June 2, 1996, p. 21; January 11, 1998; January 31, 1999, p. 16; October 24, 1999, p. 9; October 22, 2000, p. 9; September 30, 2001, p. 24; October 27, 2002, p. 7.
New York Times Magazine, February 6, 2000, p. 38.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), November 2, 2002, p. E1.
Progressive, March, 2000, John McNally, review of Waiting, p. 44.
Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1996, review of Ocean of Words: Army Stories, p. 98; October 3, 1997, review of Under the Red Flag, p. 58; October 12, 1998, review of In the Pond, p. 58; August 23, 1999, review of Waiting, p. 42; November 1, 1999, review of Waiting, p. 46; March 20, 2000, p. 20; September 4, 2000, p. 81; June 4, 2001, p. 78; July 9, 2001, p. 13; September 30, 2002, p. 47.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), October 25, 2002, p. 26D.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 31, 1999, p. F12.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 18, 1999, p. D6.
Seattle Times, October 31, 1999, Irene Wanner, review of Waiting; November 18, 1999, p. A9; June 23, 2000, p. E3; October 15, 2000, p. M14; November 3, 2002, p. K12.
Spectator, June 3, 2000, p. 42; September 21, 2002, p. 45.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), April 16, 2000, p. 005.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), January 24, 2000, p. 01E; November 10, 2002, p. 15F.
Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Australia), July 9, 2000, p. 023.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 24, 2001, p. 48.
Tampa Tribune, November 10, 2002, p. 4.
Time, December 1, 1997, Paul Gray, review of Under the Red Flag, p. 94; November 8, 1999, Paul Gray, "Divorce, Chinese-Style," p. 144.
Times (London, England), June 14, 2000, p. 19; December 16, 2000, p. 6; May 2, 2001, p. 15; January 26, 2002, p. 14; October 5, 2002, p. 15; November 2, 2002, p. 16.
Virginian Pilot, January 14, 2001, p. E3.
Wall Street Journal, October 22, 1999, p. W8; October 27, 2000, p. W12.
Washington Post, October 6, 2000, p. C03.
Washington Times, May 15, 2000, p. 8; December 15, 2002, p. B06.
Weekend Australian (Sydney, Australia), May 27, 2000, p. R13.
Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, NC), June 11, 2000, p. A20; January 26, 2003, p. A20.
World and I, May, 2000, p. 247.
World Englishes: Journal of English As an International and Intranational Language, July, 2002, p. 305.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1997, Timothy C. Wong, review of Ocean of Words: Army Stories, p. 862; autumn, 1997, K. C. Leung, review of Facing Shadows, p. 861; spring, 1998, Fatima Wu, review of Under the Red Flag, p. 454; spring, 1999, Jeffrey C. Kinkley, review of In the Pond, p. 389.
AsianWeek,http://www.asianweek.com/ (December 16, 1999), interview with Ha Jin.
AsiaSource,http://www.asiasource.org/ (November 17, 2000), interview with Ha Jin.
Austin Chronicle,http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (November 10, 2000), article on Ha Jin.
Boldtype,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (December 1999), "Ha Jin."
Book,http://www.bookmagazine.com/ (January, 2000), "Ha Jin of America,"
BookReporter,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (October 13, 2000), interview with Ha Jin.
BostonReview,http://www.bostonreview.net/ (August, 1988), "Ha Jin."
DesiJournal,http://www.desijournal.com/ (October 26, 2002), review of The Crazed.
Emory Magazine,http://www.emory.edu/ (spring, 1998), "Ha Jin."
MostlyFiction,http://mostlyfiction.com/ (October 12, 2002), review of The Crazed.
Powell's City of Books,http://www.powells.com/ (February 2, 2000), Dave Weich, interview with Ha Jin.
World and I,http://www.worldandi.com/ (May, 2000), review of Waiting.*