Jia Yi was born in 201 BCE in Luoyang.
When he reached the age of 18, he was already well known in his county for his ability in poems and essay-writing, and was referred to as "Jia sheng", i.e. "Student Jia". Soon, he was recommended by ''Wu Gong'' to Emperor Wen of Han. He soon achieved a high status but was repulsed by older, high-ranking officials at the time such as ''Zhou Bo'' and ''Guan Ying'' .
Jia Yi made many suggestions to Emperor Wen about governing his empire. As an advocate of reforms, attacking Xiongnu and lessening the power of local governors, he made enemies at court and lost his position. He became the tutor to the King of Changsha, a place he disliked as he feared its humid climate would lead to an early death. When passing the Xiang river, he wrote several poems grieving for his sad fate and compared himself with Qu Yuan, as he believed he was sent into exile. Changsha was known as "The home of Qu and Jia " because of their influence.
In 173 BC, he was recalled by the emperor to the capital Luoyang, allegedly to be asked about matters of mysticism by Emperor Wen, and was later made a tutor of his youngest son, Prince Huai of Liang , true name Liu Yi .
In 169 BC, Prince Huai of Liang who he tutors fell off a horse and died. The following year Jia committed suicide, allegedly out of feelings of responsibility for the incident.
He is known for his '''' , poems in a mixed prose and poetry style that was popular in the Han Dynasty, and for his political works such as Guo Qin Lun and Zhi'An Ce , the latter mostly lost. Since he wrote favorably of social and ethical ideas attributed to Confucius and wrote an essay focused on the failings of the -based Qin Dynasty , he was classified by other scholars in the Han Dynasty .