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The now-famous Chinese-American novelist was born in Liaoning province in 1956. At thirteen, he joined the People's Liberation Army -- the safest position one could attain during the Cultural Revolution -- and served for six years. After the Revolution ended, he got his undergraduate degree at Heilongjiang University, then went on for an M.A. at Shandong University. When the Tian'anmen massacre occurred in 1989, Ha Jin was pursuing a Ph.D. in American Literature at Brandeis University; as a former PLA officer (as he later wrote in the New York Times), "it shocked me so much that for weeks I was in a daze." The incident spurred his decision to "go the way of Conrad and Nabokov" and write exclusively in English.
While Ha Jin has won many of the United States' most prestigious literary prizes for his work, including the Pen/Hemingway, Pen/Faulkner Awards and the National Book Awards, the sensitivity of his subject matter makes most of his work unpublishable in China. He is, therefore, almost as anonymous on the Chinese mainland as he is famous in the United States. Chinese versions of several of his books are available in Hong Kong and Taiwan.