Vera Ellen Wang was born and raised in New York City, and is of Chinese descent. Her parents were born in China, and came to the United States in the mid-1940s. Her mother, Florence Wu (Wu Chifang), worked as a translator for the United Nations, while her father, Cheng Ching Wang (Wang Chengqing), a graduate of Yanjing University and MIT, owned a medicine company. Her maternal grandfather is Fengtian clique warlord Wu Junsheng, who was killed by the Empire of Japan in the Huanggutun incident in 1928. Wang has one younger brother, Kenneth.