Jiang Rong was born in Jiangsu in 1946.His father's job saw the family move to Beijing in 1957, and Jiang entered the Central Academy of Fine Art in 1966.
His education cut short by events in China, the twenty-one-year-old Jiang volunteered to work in Inner Mongolia's East Ujimchin Banner in 1967,where he lived and labored with the native nomads until the age of thirty-three. He took with him two cases filled with Chinese translations of Western literary classics, and spent eleven years immersed in personal studies of Mongolian history, culture, and tradition. In particular, he developed a fascination for the mythologies surrounding the wolves of the grasslands, spending much of his leisure time learning the stories and raising an orphaned wolf cub.
In 1978 he returned to Beijing, continuing his education at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences one year later. Jiang worked as an academic until his retirement in 2006.
Wolf Totem is a fictional account of life in the 1970s that draws on Jiang's personal experience of the grasslands of China's border region.