I like Ha Jin for the simplicity of his stories. The characters tend to have basic motivations that are easily comprehensible. The plots of the stories also seem basically simple. They are neither fairy-tale's nor determined to show a malevolent fate. What's successful is that he is able to make these stories interesting, and even to take unexpected turns within the simple framework.
Obviously some of the interest is generated by cultural difference, both the Chinese culture in general, and the specifics of the Cultural Revolution period. But as I mentioned in my review of "Ocean of Words", the stories are definitely about people. So while the stories are flavoured distinctively by the settings, they remain definitively about the human side of these situations. I think this worthy of respect. It seems to me there must have been some temptation to politicize the writing, but instead of making me fear and hate the time period, it actually makes me more comfortable, with it. I feel I can understand better how people lived through those situations. At the same time the oppresion of people's lives is clearly shown. It's just that it ends up seeming more like the way any society has negatives and positives that effect the lives of the people who live in it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not left with any desire to live there. I don't mean to say all societies are basically equal or anything like that. Just trying to frame the feeling communicated by these stories. Both the wickedness and the naturalness of the times.