Born in mainland China, Ha Jin grew up in a small rural town in Liaoning Province. From the age of fourteen to nineteen he volunteered to serve in the People's Liberation Army, staying at the northeastern border between China and the former Soviet Union. He began teaching himself the middle-and high-school courses since his third year in the army, which he left in the sixth year because he wanted to go to college. But colleges remained closed during the Cultural Revolution, which continued when he was demobilized, so he worked as a telegrapher at a railroad company for three years in Jiamusi, a remote frontier city in the Northeast. During this time, he began to follow the English learner's program, hoping that someday he could read Friedrich Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 in the English original.
In 1977 colleges reopened, and he passed the entrance exams and went to Heilongjiang University in Harbin where he was assigned to study English, even though this was his last choice for a major! He received a B.A. in English in 1981. He then studied American literature at Shandong University, where he received an M.A. in 1984. The following year he came to the United States to do graduate work at Brandeis University, from which he earned a Ph.D. in English in 1993. In the meantime, he studied fiction writing at Boston University with the novelists Leslie Epstein and Aharon Appelfeld.
After the Tianeman massacre, he realized it would be impossible to write honestly in China, so he decided to emigrate. Unlike most exiled writers already established in their native language, Ha Jin had no audience in Chinese, and so chose to write in English. To him, this meant much labor, some despair, and also, freedom.
Currently he is an associate professor in English at Emory University. He has published two volumes of poetry, BETWEEN SILENCES (University of Chicago Press, 1990), and FACING SHADOWS (Hanging Loose Press, 1996), and two books of short fiction, OCEAN OF WORDS (Zoland Books, 1996) which received the PEN Hemingway Award, and UNDER THE RED FLAG (University of Georgia Press, 1997), which received the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Award. He also published a novella, IN THE POND (Zoland Books, 1998), which was selected as a best fiction book of 1998 by the Chicago Tribune. His short stores have been included in The Best American Short Stories (1997 and 1999), three Pushcart Prize anthologies, and Norton Introduction to Fiction and Norton Introduction to Literature, among other anthologies. WAITING Ha Jin's first full-length novel, is the winner of the 1999 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for fiction. He has also written a collection of stories called, THE BRIDEGROOM, published by Pantheon Books.