His family was musical. He began studying cello with his father at the age of four, and at nine was enrolled in Shanghai Conservatory. He achieved international fame when American violinist Isaac Stern traveled in China. Stern was accompanied by a documentary film-maker. His film, called From Mao to Mozart, documented especially Stern's interaction with Chinese musicians and music students. Among them was the ten-year-old cellist, who exhibited remarkable maturity and security in his playing.
Stern featured the boy in the film, which won an Academy Award and attained international popularity. This gave young Wang an opportunity to study at Yale and Juilliard, where his primary cello teacher was Aldo Parisot.
He made his orchestral debut at 11, playing the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. At the age of 14 the Chinese government sent him with other Chinese musicians to perform at the White House. When the Boston Symphony Orchestra toured China, Wang performed as a soloist and was proclaimed by conductor Seiji Ozawa "a world-class cellist." He played the Elgar Concerto at Kennedy Center and elsewhere when the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China made its first American tour.