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Ways of Talking by Ha Jin

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Aimee Manimtim

on 17 June 2014

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Transcript of Ways of Talking by Ha Jin

Born as Xuefei Jin on February 21, 1956 in Jinzhou, Liaoning Province, China

Joined the People's Liberation Army at the age of 14; left at the age of 19

Schooled until 1966 due to the cultural Revolution

Took a job as a railway telegrapher in Jiamusi where he taught himself English through the radio

Mid-1980's worked as a busboy and night watchmen for a factory

Decided to stay in America after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing

Married to Lisha Bian and has one son, Wen
Decided to write solely in English since he had no following as an Author in Chinese
choose an easier pen name of Ha Jin

1990: launched his writing career with his collection of poems: Between Silences: A Voice from China

Became well known for his fictional writing
His first story collection, Ocean of Words: Army Stories; the stories focuses on the human experience at the front line during the conflict of the Chinese and Soviet Union in 1970's

His writing focused mostly on his Chinese culture and history, the tension between the individual and family, the modern and traditional, and personal feelings and duty
wrote about controversial topics of that time such as prostitution, homosexuality, corruption of power, abusive power of the army and the oppression of the Chinese government
Literary Accomplishments:
Academic History:
Due to the Cultural Revolution, schools were closed leaving Ha to teach himself middle school and high school courses

1981: Earned his Bachelor's degree in English at Heilongjiang University

1984: Earned his master's in American Literature at Shandong University

1993: Earned his Ph. D from Brandeis University
1991-94: studied fiction/creative writing at Boston University

Taught Creative Writing at Emory University for 9-10 years

2002: became a faculty member of Boston University
Aimee Manimtim
English 102
Professor Brackett

Ways of Talking by Ha Jin
As a writer and a poet:
Ocean of Words: Army Stories: PEN/Hemingway Award

Under the Red Flag: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction
In Broad Daylight: Push Cart Prize

The Bridegroom: Townsend Prize for Fiction

Waiting: National Book Award for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award

War Trash: PEN/Faulkner Award

The First Emperor: Co-written with Tan Dun and opened at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC

The Writer as Migrant: series of lectures published and delivered at Rice University

Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science

Asian American Literary Award

Finalist in the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book award and for the Pulitzer Prize
Historical Influences:
Cultural Revolution:
Was Mao's attempt to reassert his beliefs in China; believed the country drifted away from socialism and toward capitalism

began in September 1965 wit a speech by Lin Piao encouraging students to openly criticize the liberals in the Chinese Communist Party

Groups of youths called Red Guard were formed and encouraged to criticize any person Mao deems as a rival
anyone who was deemed to have a superior attitude was considered an enemy
Mao wanted to a classless society

Educational Institutions were closed causing the economy to suffer

Groups of Red Groups turned on each other believing their ideals were what's best for China
turned against foreigners and foreign embassies

Cultural Revolution later becomes a historical example why democracy should not be brought into China
Historical Influences:
students protest for democracy in June of 1989 in Beijing

Protests spread with other groups joining in and almost 250 cities getting involved in the protest

Initiated a hunger strike lasting almost a month

International attention were drawn in including ex-Chinese communities

Chinese government brought in soldiers and tanks from the People's Liberation Army from non-local areas

Student protestors and soldiers are brutally massacred

Iconic "Tank man" incident

After the incident, Students and other protestors were jailed or executed while some professions were black-listed, unable to find jobs

The Tiananmen Square Massacre or "June 4 Incident" and all relating content are banned and blocked in China
Ways of Talking
Ways of Talking
We used to like talking about grief

Our journals and letters were packed

with losses, complaints, and sorrows.

Even if there was no grief

we wouldn’t stop lamenting

as though longing for the charm

of a distressed face.

Then we couldn’t help expressing grief

So many things descended without warning:

labor wasted, loves lost, houses gone,

marriages broken, friends estranged,

ambitions worn away by immediate needs.

Words lined up in our throats

for a good whining.

Grief seemed like an endless river—

the only immortal flow of life.

After losing a land and then giving up a tongue,

we stopped talking of grief

Smiles began to brighten our faces.

We laugh a lot, at our own mess.

Things become beautiful,

even hailstones in the strawberry fields.
Poem Analysis:
Literary Elements
Antagonist: Us, collectively humans

Tone: a bit depressive yet reflective on our ways of talking

Personification: “words lined up in my throat” ; emphasizes how much we talk about grief

Style: Ha Jin’s style was to using his arrangement of words to show how we are all full of ‘griefs’ and it was continuous. Keeps piling on top of each other. In addition, his use of tenses gives a sense of reflection and progression in the poem

Denouement/Recognition: In the last verse, Ha Jin realizes that after grieving so much and losing a lot, we should find the beauty out of the mess we are in.

Simile: “like an endless river”: the feelings of sadness and grief never really ends; there is always something to grieve about

Oxymoron: “good whining”; whining usually associates itself with negative feelings; however, calling it “good whining” shows we are justified in complaining about our griefs and encourages the behavior;
-“only immortal flow of life”: life is mortal hence it will have an end; with an immortal flow it means it transcends life

Exposition: telling how as humans we only focus and discuss the negative events in our life;

Ha Jin is known for his focus on Chinese culture and human emotions
in this poem, focuses on humans way of grieving
he believes humans shouldn't get caught up in their grief
Use of exposition to layout the main focus of the poem
Use of amplification to show that he recognizes that there is a lot to grieve about
Use of oxymoron to emphasize the contradiction we set ourselves in
"good whining"
"the only immortal flow of life"
Use of personification
emphasize human's readiness to speak about our grief
symbolism of "journals" and "letters"
represents a person's memories and mindset
Use of imagery
emphasize the human's attraction toward grief
use of denouement
to present Ha Jin's view of how humans should 'talk'
Tone and Style
reflective narration representing that humans will break free from the grief and change
The title "Ways of Talking"
representing there is another way of thinking things

Ways of Talking Response:
Tiananmen Square Massacre:
We, as humans, liked talking about It.
Memories and conversations, filled
with deaths, disappointments, and depressions.
It felt as if this emotion fueled our being.
Even though we hold none of our own,
that wouldn't stop our mourning.
it was as if we were maintained by the allure
of any pained expression.

Eventually we couldn’t stop expressing It.
So many tragedies befell us with no warning:
Businesses shut down, loved ones gone, houses foreclosed,
True love expired, companions alienated,
Dreams repressed by the dependence on money.
It was everywhere, there was too much
to be kept to ourselves.
We were always quick to speak of It
believing anyone will listen.
It seemed to be never ending-
transcending the boundaries of life.

After removing the reasons and
then letting go of the words to speak of it,
we are left with nothing.
Something else penetrates through the emptiness,
laughter, smiles, warmth.
We burst into disbelief
at our own former selves, our mistakes.
Looking around, seeing a whole another light,
we saw what is ahead.
Poem Analysis:
Meaning and Purpose
Full transcript