Hualing Nieh was born in Hubei Province, China, in 1925, when most of the Republic of China (ROC), founded in 1911, was still divided among the war-lords. Nieh's father belonged to one of those political cliques. He was eventually coopted by Chiang Kai-shek and assigned to Guizhou Province to serve as an administrative chief, but only for eight months before he was killed by Mao Zedong's army. Nieh thus began her refugee existence in her teens in war-torn China. She attended Central University, relocated to Sichuan Province during the Anti-Japanese War and back to Nanjing in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered. Post-World War II China was divided between the Nationalists and the Communists, and Nieh witnessed student movements first-hand during the political upheavals. She graduated in 1948 and was married in Beijing, when the city was being “liberated” by the Communists, who changed the nation's official name to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The defeated Nationalists, who hold the official name of ROC, withdrew to Taiwan in 1949.
Moving with her family to Taiwan in 1949, Nieh started to work as the literary editor at Free China Fortnightly. During this period, she published two collections of short stories, Feicui Mao (The Emerald Cat) and Yiduo Xiaobaihua (A Little White Flower), a novella Geteng (Creeper), and a novel Shiqu de Jinlingze (The Lost Golden Bell). Her short stories from this period were republished in different collections in both Hong Kong and mainland China. In 1960 the publisher of Free China Fortnightly, Lei Zhen, was imprisoned for anti-government activities—Free China Fortnightly had carried editorials criticizing the Chiang Kai-shek regime, and Lei himself was campaigning to form a new