Xiao Hong (the penname of Zhang Naiying) was born on June 2, 1911 in Hulan, Heilongjiang Province. She lost her mother in her childhood. At 17 years old, Xiao Hong began to study at a girls' high school in Harbin, where she came in touch with the progressive ideas which had emerged since the May 4th Movement of 1919 and with Chinese and foreign literary works which broadened her outlook. She was deeply influenced by the works of Lu Xun, Mao Dun, and L. Sinclair. In the winter of 1930, Xiao Hong ran away from home because she felt dissatisfied with her feudal family and arranged marriage. During this time, she drifted from place to place, making friends with some progressive scholars and taking an active part in anti-Japanese activities.
In the winter of 1932, Xiao Hong met and began living with Xiao Jun, a writer.
In 1933, Xiao Hong collaborated with Xiao Jun to publish a collection of their works entitled Trekking at their own expense. Two years later, with the help and support of Lu Xun, Xiao Hong wrote her representative work, The Field of Life and Death, which soon drew attention from literary circles. Taking a village located in northeast China as its background, the novel depicts the miserable life of the peasants, praises their awakening and resistance, and exposes the lies and outrageous behavior of the Japanese militarists. The publication of this novel marked the prime period of her creative writing.
The following year, Xiao Hong sailed to Japan in order to extricate herself from the spiritual agony. In Tokyo, she wrote an assay entitled "The Lonely Life"and a suite of poems entitled "Sands." The news of Lu Xun's death had a great impact on her. She returned to Shanghai at the end of that year.
In 1940, Xiao Hong went to Hong Kong, where she wrote the novelette Ma Bole and her second novel Tales of Hulan River. The novel displays the backwardness of feudal conventions by describing the ignorant and numb life of a small town in north China.
Two years later, Xiao Hong died of an illness in Hong Kong. In a decade of creative writing, the well-known woman novelist produced many excellent works, totaling more than six hundred thousand words. In 1958, the People's Literature Publishing House published the Selected Works of Xiao Hong. In 1981, the Heilongjiang People's Publishing House published An Anthology of Xiao Hong's Correspondence with Annotations.