Biography of Pa Chin

Ba Jin (Wade-Giles: Pa Chin, 巴金) was born Li Yaotang (李尧棠) in 1904, during the last years of the Manchu dynasty. Ba grew up in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Raised in a family of absentee landlords in a household of four generations of extended family members and dozens of servants, Ba was well-educated and greatly influenced by anarchist writings, particularly Piotr Kropotkin's famous pamphlet "An Appeal to the Young."

When Ba's parents passed, his grandfather took over as head of the family. According to Ba, his grandfather was tyrannical. When Ba's grandfather died, an elder uncle assumed the role of patriarch. Family tensions came to a head, and in 1923 Ba left Chengdu to study in Nanjing and Shanghai.

From 1916 to 1928, political control in China was divided among warlords and military cliques. In 1927, Ba escaped China for Paris, France, where he joined a group of Chinese anarchists. Though he originally planned to study engineering or economics, during his time abroad, Ba began writing fiction. 1929, Ba Jin adopted his name in honor of his anarchist idols; "Ba" was taken from the Chinese transliteration of Mikhail Bakunin, and "Jin" from Kropotkin.

After the Guomindang (The Chinese Nationalist Party) took control of China, Ba returned to his homeland. He found little had changed socially and traveled widely to understand and learn from the working class. His journeys and connections inspired many of the characters in his writing. Three years after returning, Ba published Family, his first novel-length work.

In 1934, the government blacklisted Ba's novel Sprouts. To avoid persecution, Ba assumed an alias and moved to Japan. He returned to China two years later and was surprised to find his writings had made him a prominent figure in his absence.

In 1937, when the Japanese declared war on China, Ba traveled to various wartime capitals, eventually returning to Chengdu in 1941. Ba's writings, such as Ward Four (1946) and Cold Nights (1947), explored the desperation and miserable conditions of the war for the ordinary people of China. Ba was particularly prolific during this stage of his career, writing almost twenty novels and over seventy short stories. He also translated many foreign works and wrote two books in Esperanto. In 1975, Ba was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature.

After enduring years of war and political turmoil, Ba optimistically embraced the newly established anti-feudal communist government. Ba Jin was elected the vice-chairman of the National Political Consultative Conference in 1983 and the chairman of the Chinese Writers Association in 1985.

In an attempt to fully embrace the proletarian platform, Ba edited out references to anarchism in his early works and contested the origins of his chosen name. Between 1978 and 1986, Ba wrote a collection of 150 essays entitled "Random Thoughts." In these reflections on his life and career, Ba expressed regret about doctoring his works in favor of a political ideology he later deemed oppressive.

During the 1980s to early 1990s, Ba, suffering from Parkinson's disease, publicly criticized Maoism and joined petitions demanding freedom of expression for Chinese artists. In 1998, Ba's illness progressed, and he received permanent care at Shanghai's Huodong hospital. On the anniversary of his 100th birthday, The National Museum of Modern Literature, which Ba helped found, held an exhibition commemorating his life. Ba Jin died on October 17th, 2005.

Study Guides on Works by Pa Chin

Family (家 Jia) is the first installment of the Turbulent Stream trilogy (激流三部曲 Jili Sanbuqu), by Ba Jin. Before being published as a novel in 1933, Family was serialized in 1931-1932. It was Ba Jin's first novel-length work. The second and third...