The son of a Methodist pastor, Wang studied at the local schools in Fenghua near Ningbo, Zhejiang, and mission schools in Shanghai, Jiangsu, before entering the Anglo-Chinese College in Tianjin in 1895. He matriculated at the preparatory school of Peiyang University at age 14, but left his studies during the Boxer Uprising in 1900 to teach at the Anglo-Chinese College. He then taught at the Provincial High School at Changsha, Hunan, until 1905, when he went to study in Japan and became the secretary of the Chinese Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Tokyo. He continued his studies in the United States at the University of Michigan in 1907 and then transferred to Yale University in 1908. He returned to China in 1911 and served as secretary of the YMCA in Shanghai.
After the 10 Oct 1911 revolt at Wuchang, Wang was appointed a representative of Hubei to the Hankou Conference to organize a provisional national government. In 1913 he was appointed vice speaker of the Senate in Beijing. He was also the representative of the Kuomintang in Beijing. After Sun Yat-sen's public criticism of Yuan Shi Kai in 1913, Wang left Beijing for Shanghai. He then became general secretary of the national YMCA while also acting as governor of the 81st District of Rotary International.
Wang was among the five Chinese delegates sent to the Paris Peace Conference (1919-20). They prevented the transfer of Shandong to Japan, insisting on its return to China. Wang returned to Shanghai in 1920 to concentrate on business enterprises. He was president of China College in Beijing from 1921 to the 1940s. In 1922 Wang was appointed minister of foreign affairs in Beijing, where he was acting premier for one month (mid-Dec 1922 to mid-Jan 1923). In 1924 he negotiated two agreements with the Russians on China's behalf, but both were repudiated by the Chinese cabinet.
From 1928 to 1931, Wang was foreign minister of the national government. He resigned after an almost fatal attack by students angry at the government's failure to retaliate when the Japanese invaded Shenyang (Mukden) in Sep 1931. He went to the United States as the Chinese ambassador from 1936 to 1938. He then went to Hong Kong, where he helped the Bank of Communications relocate some of its assets to Manila, Philippines. He returned from Hong Kong and retired to Chongqing, Sichuan. In 1944, the same year of his wife's death, Wang was appointed chairman of the Executive for Yuan's war crimes investigation commission. He remarried in 1946. After the Communist takeover of China, he returned to Hong Kong, where he worked as chairman of the board of directors for the Pacific Insurance Company.