Mao Anqing was born in Changsha, in Hunan province. His mother was executed by the local warlord, He Jian, in 1930. Mao Anqing, his elder brother Mao Anying and his younger brother Mao Anlong escaped to Shanghai. Their father was in Jiangxi province at the time, and they were looked after by local communist activists. They spent some time living on the streets, and Mao Anqing was badly beaten by a policeman in 1930. Some blame this beating for his later mental illness. His younger brother Mao Anlong died in Shanghai.
He and his surviving elder brother were sent to Paris in 1936, and then moved to Moscow, where they remained until 1947. Mao Anqing and his brother participated in World War II for the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.
He returned to China with his brother in 1947 and joined the Communist Party of China. The Communist forces under his father defeated the opposing Kuomintang forces on mainland China in 1949, and proclaimed the People's Republic of China. His brother was killed in 1950 in Korea, and Mao Anqing's mental illness worsened. He spent considerable periods in mental hospitals.
Mao Anqing worked as a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences and the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, mainly translating books from to as a Russian linguist. He also wrote various books on his father. He was never actively involved in politics.