In 1927, Nie entered Yunnan Provincial No. 1 Normal School. He fled to Shanghai in 1930 from local feudalists. In 1931, Nie became a violinist for the Mingyue Musical Drama Society. In 1933, Nie joined the Communist Party of China and composed more than 30 pieces of film music over the next two years.
In January 1935, Nie collaborated with Tian Han, a dramatist, to compose March of the Volunteers for the anti-Japanese movie Children of Trouble Times. The song was chosen as the temporary anthem for the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and became the national anthem in 1982.
Nie drowned while swimming in 1935 on his way to the Soviet Union in Japan.