Ting-Xing Ye was born in Shanghai. Despite discouragement from her mother, she attended elementary and high school, until the Cultural Revolution in China began. Ye was sent to a prison farm, but was able to leave when she was accepted to university in Beijing.
At university, Ye studied English Language and Literature. After graduation, she returned to Shanghai to work as a government interpreter. She got married and had a daughter.
After six years, Ye returned to university to pursue International Studies. At university, she met William Bell, a Canadian who was teaching English at the college. He helped her obtain a scholarship to York university.